Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s warning that election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) would be arrested if they came within 100 feet of polling locations might raise reasonable questions about exactly how fair and free elections are in the United States. Never mind that the U.S. was a founding member of the OSCE and has invited the organization since 2002 to monitor U.S. elections.

John Campbell, the Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, suggests there’s a double standard

If an African official or politician were to issue such a warning against election observers from the [International] Republican Institute (IRI), or the National Democratic Institute (NDI), or the Carter Center, my first question would be, what are they trying to hide?

I am questioning in my own mind how much foreign election observers can actually “see” in many African countries, or elsewhere. Nevertheless, foreign observers are a part of the electoral landscape, and they should be welcomed at American voting stations, as they generally are in Africa.

In a separate post, Campbell’s CFR colleague Micah Zenko writes that it’s worth noting how the U.S. fares when it comes to the indicators U.S. observers typically apply when determining how free and fair a given country’s elections are. 

At the same time, compared to other wealthy democracies, the U.S. voting rate is a dismal 48 percent (compared to the OECD average of 70 percent). Moreover, voting rates in the United States have declined by 32 percent since 1980—more than any other OECD country that existed at the time. With most prospective voters heading to the polls today—and charges of “voting irregularities” and inexplicable delays already reported in several battleground states—it is worth a closer look at how U.S. electoral freedoms compare with other countries.

Economist Intelligence Unit 2011
Ranked nineteenth under full democracies with a score 8.18 (out of 10)

  • Electoral Process and Pluralism: 9.17
  • Functioning of government: 7.5
  • Political Participation: 7.22
  • Political Culture: 8.13
  • Civil Liberties: 8.53

Transparency International 2011
Corruption Perception Index: 7.1 (out of 10)


World Press Freedom Index 2012

Ranked forty-seventh with a grade of 14.00