Foreign election observers concerned by election denial, divisive rhetoric

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International election observers raised concerns Wednesday about divisive rhetoric questioning electoral integrity, which has contributed to recent political violence, but said monitors were providing positive early feedback on Tuesday’s political contests. 

The 2022 midterms marked the 17th year that the U.S. has invited international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor the American political contest. 

“The entire world has been watching these elections, as the importance is going beyond the U.S. borders,” Pere Joan Pons, head of the OSCE Parliamentary Delegation, said during a press conference from Washington, D.C.

Margareta Cederfelt, OSCE special coordinator, described Tuesday’s elections as “competitive and professionally managed with active voter participation” but raised concern about efforts to undermine voter trust in the electoral process by “baselessly questioning its integrity.”

Discussions of the economy, inflation and abortion rights were prominent in races across the country, she said, and while they provided substantive issues for voters to weigh in on, “campaigns by both major parties were intensively divisive and used inflammatory rhetoric.” 

Tana de Zulueta, head of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, said election observers monitored mainstream media and social media and found that “fury” — related largely to mistrust in the election system and denials of the results of the 2020 election — fueled aggression and violent acts.  

Zulueta said the attack late last month on Paul Pelosi, the 82-year-old husband of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was fueled by “events of the last presidential election and the baseless claims that it was rigged.”

“I have to say that a vibrant, pluralistic media environment, like that which we have observed and indeed enjoyed here, is in itself a prerequisite for competitive elections like those we’ve seen,” Zulueta said.

“But when the content and character of the coverage and commentary consists of derogatory and often offensive language towards those involved in the process — whether they be political opponents, election officials and even some cases voters — it does create an atmosphere, as we’ve observed, that can lead to threats and intimidation and indeed violence, while doing no service to citizens rightly seeking objective, and factual information,” Zulueta said.

Zulueta said monitors also looked at the discourse and use of voting machines, which were held up as possible weak point in the 2020 election, but found the allegations had no merit.

Zulueta said that “the issue did not come up in the same way” compared to the 2020 election and praised strong federal and local initiative to maintain their efficiency. 

One place where those allegations of irregularities did emerge was in Maricopa County, Ariz., where former President Trump suggested, without evidence, that problems with voting machines were part of efforts to suppress Republican votes. GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake also railed against election officials. 

Zulueta said OSCE monitors on the ground in Maricopa County were caught by surprise when Lake and Republican organizations filed a lawsuit to extend voting hours in response to those problems. A judge rejected that request Tuesday night. 

“Prior to the election, we had no signal from the election administration, obviously it caught them by surprise as it did us. We will follow up the litigation in the days to come,” she said.  

Other findings by the monitors included that “partisan redistricting resulted in many instances of uncompetitive constituencies” and that a number of Republicans, including some secretary of state candidates, “challenged or refused to accept the legitimacy of the 2020 results.”

The 2022 OSCE monitoring mission was the largest election observation mission ever sent to the U.S., including 130 observers.

Pons, of the OSCE Parliamentary Delegation, said he was impressed by poll workers who kept the elections running smoothly. He noted that high turnout across the country was a “clear indication of how important the election for the lives of citizens, as well as for the country’s future.”

The tradition of the U.S. inviting and allowing OSCE monitors to observe and report on American elections is part of an effort to promote transparency for the 57 members states of the European grouping, of which Russia and Belarus are members. 

The monitoring mission was unable to observe the Belarus elections in 2020, which were later determined to be neither free nor fair by the grouping, the U.S. and other allies. 

The OSCE officials said they had put together a 25-page preliminary report on the U.S. elections and are expected to deliver their full report within two months.

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