A report from international election observers on their preliminary findings on U.S. elections starts off promisingly. “The 8 November general elections were highly competitive,” they said, “and demonstrated commitment to fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association.”
The observers also commended local election officials for their competence and professionalism.
But that's about where the positivity ends.
Hundreds of election monitors from around the world fanned out across the United States on Tuesday to ensure free and fair elections, as well as to document the process for the benefit of their home nations. About 300 of them were brought to the United States by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The OSCE's report damns the U.S. elections with faint praise, and then gets to the meat of the issue: Too many voting machines are faulty, and huge portions of the population can't vote anyhow.
In 13 percent of observations, OSCE representatives noted malfunctions with electronic voting machines. That is roughly 1 in 8 votes. They said possible causes could be lack of pre-election testing of the machines, which may have been outdated or ill-maintained to begin with. In some cases, voters were noted to have complained that their choices were not accurately recorded by functioning machines, which the observers said could play into claims of election rigging in the public's perception. Those instances may have been caused by “poorly calibrated equipment,” they said.
One in 10 voters also had to wait in line for more than 30 minutes to cast their vote, especially at polling stations the observers said were short on staff, particularly during pre-work, morning voting hours. The OSCE observers were able to visit 932 polling stations in 33 states, but were denied access to 17 states, including Indiana, Delaware, Maine, Missouri and New Jersey.
Long lines and faulty machines may be aggravating to voters, and feed into suspicions about the integrity of the process, but the report reserves far more serious language for the politically motivated disenfranchisement of entire segments of voters.
“Recent legal changes and decisions on technical aspects of the electoral process were often motivated by partisan interests, adding undue obstacles for voters,” notes the report. “Suffrage rights are not guaranteed for all citizens, leaving sections of the population without the right to vote.”
Here is the summation of the issue, per the OSCE:
Some 4 million residents of U.S. overseas territories and 600,000 residents of the District of Columbia do not have voting representation in Congress. In addition, residents of U.S. overseas territories do not have the right to vote in presidential elections. More than 6 million convicts, including those who have served their sentences as well as many still facing trial, are widely disenfranchised, although several states have recently taken steps to restore their voting rights. These restrictions contravene the principle of universal and equal suffrage, as provided in OSCE commitments.
The report then continues to expand the breadth of its criticism, which started with the specific, then encompassed the legal, and ended on the structural.
Campaign finance regulations came under particular scrutiny. Generally, the United States has relatively few limits on financial contributions to campaigns. That is especially so in the wake of the 2008 Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed corporations, just like individuals and nonprofit groups, to contribute unlimited amounts to political campaigns. Because many of those contributions are routed through political action committees (PACs) rather than the campaigns themselves, their origins aren't required to be disclosed to the FEC, severely limiting transparency regarding where a candidate gets his or her support.
The report also touched upon the underrepresentation of women both in American politics at large, as well as in decision-making electoral administration positions; the polarization of the media and a proliferation of fake news articles on the Internet; and the institution of the electoral college, a system that allows for a candidate to win the popular vote and yet fail to become president.
Culled from Washington Post