On Wednesday, when the results of the presidential elections in the United States were still unknown, the monitoring group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe held a press conference in Washington, DC, sharing its observations on the past elections.
The head of the short-term observation mission, Michael Georg Link, thanked the US government for “the courage to show that no one is perfect.”
“Any democracy … benefits from sharing best practices that can help further improve and improve the electoral system where needed,” he added.
The United States was required to invite the OSCE to observe the elections. Despite the Eurocentric name, the organization includes the United States and Canada, as well as several Central Asian countries. OSCE membership obliges to invite election observers from other participating countries in order to ensure that uniform standards of transparency are observed.
While Link’s team monitored on election day itself, a permanent OSCE observation team led by Ursul Hacek arrived in the United States in late September to examine conditions ahead of the elections. Some of the observers will remain in the country for another 10 days, or longer if the vote count is delayed.
The extension of early voting and mail-order voting, designed to make voting safer amid the coronavirus pandemic, has led to more than 400 lawsuits in 44 states, according to a report from both groups released Wednesday. Some litigation continued even during the voting. This, according to Gachek, led to “a rule change at the height of the game.”
In addition to the complications associated with the pandemic, observers note the harsh campaign rhetoric, especially from President Donald Trump. The report says that of particular concern is the “incumbent’s use of discriminatory and derogatory statements against individuals on the basis of their gender and origin”.
The report also noted Trump’s refusal to guarantee a peaceful transfer of power in the event of an election defeat. The authors believe that the president’s expressed distrust of mail-order voting could weaken public confidence in government institutions.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Link stressed: “No one – neither politicians nor elected officials – should restrict people’s right to vote … Baseless accusations of systematic violations, especially by the incumbent, including on election night, undermine public confidence in democratic institutions ”.
Despite the pandemic, lawsuits and harsh political rhetoric, the observers had good news: they did not find systemic violations or delinquencies on the part of either side. Gacek noted isolated “minor incidents” related to the human factor. Some of which were detailed in the notes to the report. At the same time, she said, the observers did not reveal “anything that could fundamentally undermine the credibility of the system.”
Both Link and Gachek declined to answer numerous questions about whether these elections testify to the regression of American democracy.
“We don’t give a positive or negative assessment,” Link said. “This question implies a political conclusion, and we do not draw political conclusions.”