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Faceoff Between State, Election Observers Continues

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Greg Abbott reaffirmed his position that international election observers would be held to the same standards as all others and not get extra access.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott

Attorney General Greg Abbott has fired the latest salvo in the state’s battle over the presence of international election observers, this time in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

On Tuesday, Abbott warned the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, a division of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, that elections observers could not circumvent Texas’ election laws and enter polling places. He promised to prosecute anyone in violation of state law, including observers who come within 100 feet of polling places. He added that he wasn’t sure “what [the OSCE’s] monitoring is intended to achieve.”

In response the OSCE asked Clinton’s office to “to ensure the OSCE’s election observers are not ‘restrained in their activities’ while in the State of Texas,” according to Abbott’s office.

On Thursday, Abbott reaffirmed his position that the observers would be held to the same standards as all others.

“It appears that OSCE is under the misimpression that the State Department can somehow help its representatives circumvent the Texas Election Code,” he wrote. “OSCE monitors are expected to follow that law like everyone else.”

Abbott said he is “offended” that the European organization would be tied to groups that are similar to ACORN, a reference to the OSCE’s meetings this year with Project Vote, an advocacy group that opposes the state’s voter ID measure and filed legislation to stop several restrictions on voter registration drives that were passed by the Texas Legislature in 2011. The voter registration laws were upheld, but the voter ID law is not in effect. The U.S. Department of Justice and a federal court struck it down this year. Abbott has said he plans to appeal the case.

On Wednesday, Project Vote remained undeterred, however, and reaffirmed its belief that Texas needs to be checked on.

“Texas has a long history of voting rights infringements, which is why it is subject to the Voting Rights Act,” wrote Michael Slater, executive director of Project Vote. “Recently, Texas lawmakers have passed laws that make it one of the states most hostile to voter participation.”

Scott Simpson, the press officer for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said that if Texas elections are transparent and fair, Abbott should welcome the observers’ visit as a way to highlight the state’s practices.

“Their objective is to observe and report,” said Simpson, who coordinated the visit with Project Vote and the OSCE officials this year. “It’s an opportunity for Texas and America to show how elections work.”

Simpson added that observers have been visiting the United States since 2002, when former President George W. Bush invited them.

But Abbott also invoked an across-the-aisle figure in his defense, citing the Carter-Baker reports findings in his letter to Clinton.

“As you know, President Carter is one of the world’s most well-known election monitors,” he wrote. “Given President Carter’s experience in this area, it is noteworthy that the report he authored found: ‘The electoral system cannot inspire confidence if no safeguards exist to deter and detect fraud or to confirm the identity of voters.’”

Abbott closed the letter by saying that the observers may be better served if they were dispatched to another state if they didn’t intend to “follow the laws that govern everyone else present in the State of Texas, including the voters who elect our State’s leaders.”

“Please work with the OSCE to ensure they agree to comply with Texas law,” he wrote. “If they refuse to do so, OSCE’s representatives may be subject to legal consequences associated with any violations of state law.” 

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2012 elections