WHEN IT COMES to democracy and election transparency, Greg Abbott, the attorney general of Texas, is apparently taking his cues from post-Soviet autocrats like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Like Mr. Putin, whose election czar called international election monitors in Russia “spies,” and Mr. Nazarbayev, who threatened to bar monitors altogether, Mr. Abbott, a Republican, is deeply discomfited that a few of them will be in the Lone Star State on Election Day. He is threatening to have them arrested and criminally prosecuted should they violate a state law that bans political party workers or other loiterers from coming within 100 feet of polling places.
Mr. Abbott issued his bizarre warning to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has monitored scores of elections around the world, including six in this country since 2002. The United States, which helped create the OSCE, has supported it for decades to promote freedom and democracy worldwide.
One likely effect of Mr. Abbott’s grandstanding, which was seconded by Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), is to hand a propaganda gift to dictators and autocrats everywhere. They may now cite his example as evidence that the United States is no more open to electoral scrutiny from outsiders than they are. Don’t mess with Texas — or with Belarus!
Mr. Abbott’s real audience appears to be paranoiacs in the Republican Party who have bought into the theory that OSCE election monitors are determined to subvert voter ID laws. The supposed proof is that OSCE officials have met with U.S. groups, including the NAACP and Project Vote, that oppose those laws. Republicans like Mr. Abbott, intent on suppressing Democratic voters, want to tighten voter ID laws despite scant evidence of widespread voting irregularities.
The OSCE has met, and is entitled to meet, with a broad variety of U.S. groups, as it routinely meets with groups in other countries in preparation for monitoring elections. The organization has expressed no opinion on U.S. voter ID laws, despite Mr. Abbott’s taunt, contained in a letter to the group, that “your opinion is legally irrelevant here in the United States.”
In fact, the real irrelevancy here is Mr. Abbott, notwithstanding his chest-thumping xenophobia. As he acknowledged, Texas has no means to monitor the five or 10 OSCE monitors who will make unannounced visits to any one of thousands of the state’s polling places. (They are also monitoring polling places in other states, none of which has objected.)
More to the point, Mr. Abbott has no business interfering with international election monitors from a group in which the United States is one of 56 member states. According to the State Department, visiting international election officials are accorded diplomatic immunity. “In general we give them protected status, as we expect of our people when we participate in OSCE delegations,” department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
One reason that the United States remains so widely admired is its habit of democratic transparency. That transparency represents an admonition, and a threat, to autocracies and dictatorships. Most states get that and welcome international election monitors. Texas should get a clue.