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International election monitors coming to US but far fewer this year

SALT LAKE CITY — Due to safety concerns and travel restrictions arising from Covid-19, far fewer international election monitors will be deployed to the United States to observe the 2020 presidential election.

With two weeks until Election Day, more than 34 million Americans have already cast ballots in the election, according to the U.S. Elections Project as reported by CNBC.

When faced with potential problems at the polls, other countries invite international observers to help monitor elections.

International election monitors in the US

International election monitors have observed seven U.S. elections since 2002, according to The Conversation.

The number of international election observers will be scaled back during the presidential vote because of a combination of health concerns during the pandemic and the lack of an invitation from the US State Department for Latin American observers.

The Organization of American States (OAS) has yet to receive an invitation to send observers for monitoring the Nov. 3 election, which threatens to be like no other.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed the postal ballots will be rigged — in the absence of any historical evidence. For example, Utah elections have been conducted by mail for years with very few problems. 

Read more: How the FBI is working to protect the 2020 election

Based in Vienna, the electoral arm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is sending 30 observers, instead of the 500 that had been recommended this year. The OSCE is composed of observers from 57 countries in Europe, North America and Central Asia.

The short-term observers would have fanned out to polling stations around the nation, particularly in battleground states, to give live assessments of the vote. But they will not be coming.

The OSCE will operate in just 28 of the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Rules vary state-by-state

Because elections are decentralized in the U.S., laws and customs for international observers vary. More than half of all U.S. states allow international observers at least for some elections.

Utah has allowed international observers in the past, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

By statute, international observers are explicitly prohibited  in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.

Each team of observers prepares reports on their observations; those are then compiled to create a national-level report of findings on the voting process.

International election observers also offer recommendations on how to improve the voter experience, which they then share with election officials.

A first for the Carter Center

The Atlanta-based Carter Center is taking the unprecedented step of getting involved in U.S. elections.

The Carter Center is in discussion with some states about small-scale observation efforts but stopping short of full-fledged monitoring; it will not be deploying observers, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

“Given the scale of problems today—including deep polarization, lack of confidence in elections, obstacles to participation by minority groups and others, persistent racial injustice and the COVID-19 pandemic — the center has decided that it should try to improve elections here at home, drawing on its global experience observing troubled elections and its knowledge of international standards.” said Paige Alexander who is the Carter Center CEO.

The organization founded by former President Jimmy Carter has long been involved in elections across Latin America, the Middle East and Africa. Teams are now working in Côte d’Ivoire, Myanmar and Bolivia.

Clarification on Oct. 22,2020: 

The article above stated: “(OSCE) is sending 30 observers, instead of the 500 that had been recommended this year.”

But according to Nat Parry, the OSCE head of communications and press:

“While it is true that the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights initially requested 500 short-term observers and is now deploying only 30 long-term observers around the country, there are also 11 experts based in Washington that constitute part of the team. In addition, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, where I serve as spokesperson, is deploying a delegation of 75 observers, including nearly 60 parliamentarians from 25 different countries. 

“So, added together, the OSCE is actually deploying more than 100 observers — still much less than originally envisaged but far more than the 30 that has been incorrectly reported.”

Why is KSL NewsRadio covering this?

This story is part of a series explaining the process behind elections in the United States and Utah. We wanted to answer commonly asked questions about the process.

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It came from you! Listeners like you text, email or message us regularly with questions just like this one that sometimes become stories.

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Just like you, when we need to answer tough questions, we perform searches -- sometimes using the library, sometimes online. We also consult with experts in the appropriate field to answer our questions.

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