By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog
PORTLAND – Without polls to watch, the international elections monitors sent to check in on the U.S. elections have already come and gone in Oregon.
Officials with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were deployed to Oregon from Oct .12 to 23 to question elections officials and learn about Oregon’s vote-by-mail system.
They won’t be back, Giovanna Maiola, OSCE media analyst, said.
“They work in teams of two, and their observation involves meetings with officials, political parties and candidates, as well as representatives from civil society and the media, both in the state capital and around the state,” Maiola said, though she didn’t have specific information about what happened in Oregon. Another official with direct knowledge was not available.
The OSCE is a regional security organization that includes 56 states from Europe, Central Asia and North America. Although it has close ties to the United Nations, Maiola said, it’s independent of that organization. OSCE monitors elections worldwide for fair practices, including the U.S. presidential elections in 2004 and 2008, and the mid-term elections in 2010. It started this year’s U.S. mission in early October.
Officials met with Oregon Elections Director Steve Trout and Washington County Elections Manager Mickie Kawai, among others.
Kawai said they mostly asked about campaigning and demographics, including party affiliations and minorities.
“They had questions that were good but that we couldn’t answer,” Kawai said, adding her office focuses solely on registration and facilitating the election. “They were intrigued about vote by mail.”
Ballots in Oregon were mailed Oct. 19-23, and voters have until 8 p.m. on Election Day to mail them in, place them in a drop box or hand deliver them to elections offices.
Ruth Bendle, Voter Integrity chair for the Washington County Republican Party, said she met with an elections monitors for about an hour. She said the woman, who was from South Africa, mostly asked about any Voter ID initiatives she might or might not be working on. But the monitor also asked about the state’s vote-by-mail system.
“She wanted to know if there were concerns,” Bendl said, adding she told the monitor about concerns she and other have over an apparent lack of chain of custoy when ballots are picked up from drop boxes.
Bendl, who oversees volunteers on election night and for years has worked for elections reform in Oregon, said she also met with elections monitors from OSCE in 2008, when the monitors appeared to have some misgivings about vote-by-mail.
The presence of OSCE this election has drawn the ire of conservative activists working to weed out potential voter fraud across the country and to push for Voter ID laws. It also prompted the Texas Attorney General to say workers are not allowed, by law, to be inside polling locations in the Lone Star State. Civil rights groups concerned over changes to voting laws in some states – such as Pennsylvania, which has a new high-profile voter ID law – asked the OSCE to monitor elections there.
“It’s puzzling that these activist groups that have spent literally millions of dollars fighting reasonable policies like voter ID — that most Americans support — would call on a United Nations affiliated organization to monitor American elections,” True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht said in an emailed statement.
“The U.N. itself is hardly a model of governmental integrity. What’s even more baffling is that these activist groups asked international monitors to help stop the purported suppression caused by photo voter ID laws — yet all the monitors are from countries with comprehensive photo voter ID laws. Kawai said the OSCE officials didn’t ask about potential voter fraud or suppression.”
OSCE will release a preliminary report of its findings on Nov. 7, and a final report eight weeks after the election.
Contact Shelby Sebens at Shelby@NorthwestWatchdog.org, or follow her on Twitter @ShelbySebens. For more Northwest Watchdog updates, visit Facebook and Twitter.