International election observers will be coming to Iowa along with other states. Officials from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a group chartered by the UN to conduct election observations, met with Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald on Monday. Fitzgerald said that officials are not obligated to let them watch, but he didn’t have a problem with it. Texas authorities threatened to arrest the UN election observers should they try to gain access into polling places. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said that they were not authorized by Texas law in a letter he sent to the OSCE.
Ambassador Janez Lenarčič, the Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights responded to the threat of prosecution in a statement released on Thursday. “The threat of criminal sanctions against OSCE/ODIHR observers is unacceptable,” Lenarčič said. “The United States, like all countries in the OSCE, has an obligation to invite ODIHR observers to observe its elections.” He noted that his group has observed U.S. elections since 2002 without incident and their intent is to observe, not interfere with the election process. The election monitoring stems from the 2000 election results where the outcome came down to the vote in Florida. President George W. Bush (then Texas Governor Bush) won the election after the U.S. Supreme Court halted further recounts in Florida.
Iowa Secretary of State, Matt Schultz, in a statement released today said that the international election observers accessing polls in Iowa would also be a violation of state law.
“As Secretary of State, I support the efforts of other nations to learn more about our election process and ways in which they might improve their own election systems. We welcome the four international visitors to our great state,” Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz said.
However, it was reported yesterday that members of this organization are attempting to gain access to Iowa polling places on Election Day. My office met with two delegation representatives last week to discuss Iowa’s election process and it was explained to them that they are not permitted at the polls. Iowa law is very specific about who is permitted at polling places, and there is no exception for members of this group.”
Schultz referenced Iowa Code 49.104 which says:
The following persons shall be permitted to be present at and in the immediate vicinity of the polling places, provided they do not solicit votes: 1. Any person who is by law authorized to perform or is charged with the performance of official duties at the election. 2. Any number of persons, not exceeding three at a time from each political party having candidates to be voted for at such election, to act as challenging committees, who are appointed and accredited by the executive or central committee of such political party or organization. 3. Any number of persons not exceeding three at a time from each of such political parties, appointed and accredited in the same manner as above prescribed for challenging committees, to witness the counting of ballots. Subject to the restrictions of section 51.11, the witnesses may observe the counting of ballots by a counting board during the hours the polls are open in any precinct for which double election boards have been appointed. 4. Any peace officer assigned or called upon to keep order or maintain compliance with the provisions of this chapter, upon request of the commissioner or of the chairperson of the precinct election board. 5. One observer at a time representing any nonparty political organization, any candidate nominated by petition pursuant to chapter 45, or any other nonpartisan candidate in a city or school election, appearing on the ballot of the election in progress. Candidates who send observers to the polls shall provide each observer with a letter of appointment in the form prescribed by the state commissioner. 6. Any persons expressing an interest in a ballot issue to be voted upon at an election except a general or primary election. Any such person shall file a notice of intent to serve as an observer with the commissioner before election day. If more than three persons file a notice of intent to serve at the same time with respect to ballot issues at an election, the commissioner shall appoint from those submitting a notice of intent the three persons who may serve at that time as observers, and shall provide a schedule to all persons who filed notices of intent. The appointees, whenever possible, shall include both opponents and proponents of the ballot issues. 7. Any person authorized by the commissioner, in consultation with the secretary of state, for the purposes of conducting and attending educational voting programs for youth.
He also stated that Iowa Code 49.105 that workers “shall order the arrest” of those who violate the provisions of the law. His office then noted that any election law violations can be reported to the Iowa Secretary of State’s office by calling the Election Hotline at 1-888-SOS-VOTE.