Updated: Oct. 24, 4:30 p.m.:
Project Vote Executive Director Michael Slater on Wednesday issued a statement addressing Attorney General Abbott’s warning to international elections observers.
“America stands for democracy. It appears that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is ashamed of Texas’s voting rights record or he would welcome observers with open arms. Instead, he is threatening them and attacking groups that are working to ensure that every eligible Texan is allowed to vote.
“Project Vote is one of the nation’s largest nonpartisan, non-profit voting rights organizations. As such, we recently advised the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) on areas of concern for voting rights this election. Along with The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NAACP, League of Women Voters of the United States, and other voting rights organizations, we signed onto a letter inviting OSCE to monitor voting in states most likely to be impacted by voter restriction efforts.
“Texas has a long history of voting rights infringements, which is why it is subject to the Voting Rights Act. Recently, Texas lawmakers have passed laws that make it one of the states most hostile to voter participation. The Texas photo voter ID law and its redistricting plans were not pre-cleared by the Department of Justice.
“Project Vote is determined to use all of our available resources to support voting rights in Texas. That’s why Project Vote is currently prosecuting two important lawsuits in Texas, one challenging Texas’s burdensome restrictions on community voter registration drives, and a second challenging discriminatory procedures registration and list maintenance procedures in Harris County.
“In this election season, Project Vote urges the Texas Attorney General to devote scarce taxpayer resources to protecting voters from the very real threats of voter intimidation and suppression.”
International observers will descend on Texas to monitor the Nov. 6 general election, and the attorney general wants them to understand a clear message: We will be watching you.
In a letter to the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, a division of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Attorney General Greg Abbott firmly stated that foreign observers have no business inside local polling places.
“While it remains unclear exactly what your monitoring is intended to achieve, or precisely what tactics you will use to achieve the proposed monitoring, OSCE has stated publicly that it will visit polling stations on Election Day as part of its monitoring plan,” he wrote.
According to the letter, the organization met in April with groups that oppose voter ID legislation in Texas, including Project Vote, which tried unsuccessfully through legal challenges to halt five provisions that also affect voter registration in Texas. The voter ID bill is not in effect, however, after being stricken down by the Department of Justice and a federal court this year. Abbott has said he plans to appeal the case.
“The Texas Election Code governs anyone who participates in Texas elections — including representatives of the OSCE,” Abbott wrote. “The OSCE’s representatives are not authorized by Texas law to enter a polling place. It may be a criminal offense for OSCE’s representatives to maintain a presence within 100 feet of a polling place’s entrance. Failure to comply with these requirements could subject the OSCE’s representatives to criminal prosecution for violating state law.”
Representatives from Project Vote were not immediately available for comment.
Abbott foreshadowed the tone of his correspondence via Twitter by invoking a battle cry made famous at the 1835 Battle of Gonzales.
“UN poll watchers can't interfere w/ Texas elections,” he tweeted. “I'll bring criminal charges if needed. Official letter posted soon. #comeandtakeit “
The Texas secretary of state’s office took a more congenial tone in which it aimed to clarify the visitors’ intention, which the office said has been muddied by inaccurate reports. It also asked Ambassador Daan Everts, a leader with the program, to clarify that the group's only mission is to observe Texas elections.
“We have had a long and productive relationship with OSCE and election process observers,” secretary of state Hope Andrade wrote. The observation program "has provided valuable insights into the administrations of elections in various political systems and contexts. The exchange of information establishing best practices has been important and insightful and, up to now, completely devoid of any partisanship.”
Andrade repeats Abbott's assertion that that the OSCE has no jurisdiction over Texas elections, but adds that she is certain the OSCE “does not intent to allow its organization and this observation program to be portrayed as an ‘inspection’ or ‘monitoring.’”
In an email to county election officials, Keith Ingram, the state's director of elections, said he has spoken to the observers and they understood what they could do on their visit.
“I have specifically informed the Texas team that Chapter 61 of the Texas Election Code would not allow them into actual polling places, and they understood this limitation,” he wrote. “Other than that, I told them that we are ready to answer any questions they may have. If you have any specific concerns or questions, please let me know.”