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OSCE 'grave concerns' at Trump election ploys

OSCE election observers reported widespread concerns about U.S. President Donald Trump's efforts to uncercut voter confidence in the presidential election.

WASHINGTON (AN) — Election observers from the world's largest security-oriented intergovernmental organization reported widespread concerns on Thursday about U.S. President Donald Trump's efforts to undercut voters' confidence in the November 3 U.S. elections.

Many among the two small teams of Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe election observers "expressed grave concerns about the risk of legitimacy of the elections being questioned due to the incumbent president’s repeated allegations of a fraudulent election process, and postal vote in particular," the 57-nation OSCE disclosed in an interim report on its monitoring efforts.

Similarly, several members expressed what the 14-page report describes as "grave concerns about allegations from a sitting president casting doubt on the democratic process without presenting any evidence that the integrity of the election process could be systematically jeopardized."

OSCE, which counts the United States as a member, has been monitoring elections in North America, Europe and Asia for two decades. It first began observing U.S. elections in 2002, in the wake of the highly controversial and divisive 2000 presidential race in which George W. Bush defeated Al Gore.

But after eight previous such missions, the 2020 U.S. elections are proving to be different, not only due to an incumbent president sowing seeds of doubt among voters about election fraud and voter suppression before the polling has even happened.

This election also involves what OSCE calls a "highly complex" legal landscape due to U.S. states adopting vastly differing approaches towards trying to protect voters from the COVID-19 pandemic.

And with Trump's denunciations of protesters' "lawlessness" and his refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power even if, as most polling forecasts, Vice President Joe Biden wins the vote, OSCE said it has very real "concern over the potential for political violence in the aftermath of the elections."

OSCE's report said that to insure the election goes well, the U.S. government may need to provide more than the $400 million already given out to states to deal with health and safety issues. Recruitment of sufficient numbers of poll workers, it said, is a major challenge in many jurisdictions.

"The campaign is taking place within an atmosphere of high degree of polarization and political division, which have been significantly impacted by COVID-19 pandemic," the report said. "The media landscape is pluralistic and diverse, but highly polarized."

Two teams, fewer than planned

Restrictions on the right to vote "disproportionally affect racial minorities," the OSCE observers said, while voter ID requirements are more likely to disenfranchise "vulnerable and minorities groups."

The election is taking place in a year of massive demonstrations and protests that broke out in cities across the United States in the wake of the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd, a Black man, while he was in police custody at Minneapolis. It was the latest in a long series of U.S. racial injustices.

U.N. human rights experts have called on U.S. authorities to end the use of violence towards demonstrators protesting systemic racism and police brutality in the aftermath of Floyd’s death. Crackdowns on protesters and journalists also landed the United States on an updated watchlist of nations from CIVICUS, which said it had “serious concerns regarding the exercise of civic freedoms.”

Already, more than 365 related lawsuits have been filed in 44 states and the District of Columbia, leading to uncertainty and the prospect of some voters unable to cast ballots. New voting technologies vary widely among precints, though OSCE observers said they believe cyber threats can be dealt with.

“This is one of the most important elections we have ever observed," Roberto Montella of Italy, secretary general of the 323-member OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, said on Twitter.

OSCE said it sent 102 people in two teams to observe U.S. elections. One had 50 observers and experts from OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, or ODIHR, to monitor U.S. voting in 28 states; the other had 52 lawmakers and staff from its Parliamentary Assembly to monitor U.S. voting in 10 states and the nation’s capital. The teams initially sought to include 500 observers, but the pandemic undercut recruitment and international travel.

“The very way of voting this year has become a hot political topic," Polish diplomat and politician Urszula Gacek, who heads the ODIHR team, said of the U.S. election in an interview with Poland's TVN24 BiS. She said OSCE's final report — and its recommendations for systemic improvements — will not be ready until after Trump or Biden is inaugurated on January 20.