WASHINGTON, November 1 (Carl Schreck for RIA Novosti) - Hot on the cowboy boot heels of Texas, officials in the US state of Iowa have warned election monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that they face arrest if they get too close to Iowa polling stations during next Tuesday’s US presidential election.
A similar announcement last week by the state of Texas sparked a diplomatic dust-up after the OSCE appealed to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to express its “grave concerns” over the possibility that its election monitors could be arrested.
But that did not stop Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz from telling observers from the OSCE’s election-monitoring arm to abide by a state law preventing them from coming within 300 feet of a polling station or risk getting tossed behind bars.
“Iowa law is very specific about who is permitted at polling places, and there is no exception for members of this group,” Schultz said in a statement this week.
Iowa law allows for a “limited number of individuals permitted at polling stations on election day” and states that poll workers “shall order the arrest” of individuals who violate these provisions, Schultz added in the statement.
The United States routinely demands that other countries permit unfettered access to international election monitors in the name of transparency and fairness.
The OSCE is a regional security organization made up of 56 countries across North America, Europe and Central Asia. Its election-monitoring arm, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), sends observers to elections in member states, including the United States and Russia.
ODIHR spokesman Thomas Rymer said Thursday that the monitors would abide by all local laws but noted that these laws are often at odds with the federal government’s commitments as an OSCE signatory to facilitate the organization’s election observers.
“Our final reports from earlier [US] observation missions do highlight this as an inconsistency between state laws and the United States’ obligations as an OSCE member,” Rymer said in a telephone interview from ODIHR’s headquarters in Warsaw, Poland. “We’ve made recommendations that something be done to bring them in line with each other, at which point it’s an internal matter for the United States to decide.”
The OSCE has deployed a 57-person team of observers to monitor next Tuesday’s election. Two of those monitors are stationed in Iowa through election day, and there are pairs of observers in 21 other states, Rymer said. The organization has monitored US elections since 2002.
Chad Olsen, a spokesman for Schulz, said the Iowa secretary of state had met with the two OSCE observers last week and discussed the state laws stipulating that the only people allowed inside polling stations are election workers, observers appointed by local officials, and voters.
Schulz issued the statement warning of possible arrest after reports that the OSCE monitors had approached county-level officials and asked for access to voting precincts, Olsen said by telephone from Des Moines on Thursday.
“They just need to stick to their word that they intend to respect our election laws, and everything will be fine,” Olsen said.
In an explanation of his warning to the OSCE last week, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott - a Republican - wrote to Clinton that the organization’s credibility was undermined because it had been in contact with liberal US activist groups linked tangentially to voter-registration fraud.
Schulz, the Iowa secretary of state, is also a Republican.
OSCE vote monitors have ruffled feathers in Russia as well by repeatedly criticizing the country’s elections in recent years as unfair.
In a February 2008 news conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed an overhaul of the organization and said its election monitors should teach their wives “how to make cabbage soup” rather than teach Russia about democracy.