Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Andrew Gumbel's recent piece in the Nation on Electoral Standards

Reporter Andrew Gumbel published an article recently in the Nation on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) new report on its observations of the U.S.' 2004 presidential election. This report has received practically no coverage in the media, and is not easy to locate on the OSCE's web site (you can find it here).

In his article on this report, Andrew Gumbel provides an international perspective on the OSCE's observation efforts of the U.S.' byzantine electoral process. Excerpts below:


The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has been monitoring elections in emerging democracies ever since the fall of the Berlin wall, but now it has done something different and uniquely controversial. It has turned its attention to the United States, issuing a report that highlights numerous areas in which this past November's presidential and Congressional elections failed to meet international standards.

One would have thought the voter reform movement in this country would jump at the chance to see the United States judged by the same criteria as Ukraine, Georgia or Kyrgyzstan--especially since the report finds it badly wanting. Here, in black and white, is authoritative proof that the disenfranchisement of ex-felons, the uneven rules applied to provisional balloting, the unreliability of voter registration procedures and the dual role of election supervisors who also help run partisan political campaigns are not merely objectionable but also violate international norms to which the United States, as a participating member of the fifty-five-nation OSCE, is a leading signatory.

And yet the OSCE's twenty-nine-page report, published in April has not generated a single column inch in any US newspaper. There are both good and bad reasons for this. For a start, the report has come out five months after the election, virtually guaranteeing its lack of topicality. It is also written in excruciatingly careful prose, belying the pointedness of its conclusions. There is no summary sentence stating explicitly that the United States has failed to meet its international commitments. (That has to be inferred.) Nor does it allude to the fact that Ohio was just a few tens of thousands of votes away from another Florida-style meltdown. This is a document that takes every conceivable step to avoid being controversial, even as it delivers its damning assessment.

Therein, though, lies the real story. The OSCE report has been the hottest of political hot potatoes for months, its reticence the result of an escalating diplomatic battle pitting the United States against the countries of the former Soviet Union, not unlike the cold war standoffs of old.

OSCE sources complain that US officials made "inappropriate" phone calls in the run-up to the report's publication, in the hope that its conclusions would not come down too hard on the dysfunctions of its electoral system. Russia and the other former Soviet republics, meanwhile, have accused both the United States and the OSCE itself of a glaring double standard--making no bones about criticizing the conduct of their elections (in Georgia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and, most recently, Kyrgyzstan) while skirting over the inadequacies of voting in the world's sole remaining superpower.

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