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States’ right and UN monitors

Posted 10/31/2012

Commentary by Freedom Foundation

“Election monitors” from the U.N.-affiliated Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe are getting a U.S. civics lesson courtesy of Texas and Iowa. Both states have warned the monitors that state election laws have no special provisions for European tourists. That means if the foreign monitors get within 100 feet of a Texas polling place, or 300 feet in Iowa, they will be violating state law. And both states have committed to enforcing their laws and, if necessary, arresting the monitors.

The OSCE has complained—to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. What the European bureaucrats fail to understand is that the United States is still a republica of states. The states have responsibility for election administration, with their own laws, which executive branch officials in each state are obligated to enforce.

While Europeans might put up with ad hoc waivers and special privileges granted to U.N. officials, at least some U.S. states take a dimmer view to foreign interference or the implication that we need election babysitters from Europe. (Didn’t we fight a war against one European government that “sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people…”?)

U.S. State Department officials might take notice as well, instead of siding with the U.N. (some might wonder if the feds have “combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws”). Ordinary Americans have historically have been skeptical of far-away bureaucrats who are “here to help.” And it doesn’t get much farther away than where these observers come from—places like Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. And while we would never take a cheap shot at Kazakhstan a la Sacha Baron Cohen (though we did notice the first name of one of the nation’s election observers is “Bolat”…), the country is rated “not free” by Freedom House.

Actually, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Belarus are all rated “not free.” I wrote more about this last week.

The United States is a federal republic where states retain most government power—all powers, in fact, not specifically designated in the Constitution to the federal government. Most power over elections—thankfully—remains with the states. Officials in Washington, D.C., do not control our election processes. No presidential appointee oversees presidential elections. While no election system is perfect, in our system we get to learn as states experiment and compete with different election policies. And election problems and disputes remain contained in individual states. This is one reason for the Freedom Foundation’s Save Our States project, which defends the Electoral College. And it’s a lesson Texas and Iowa are teaching the U.N.—and the U.S. State Department.

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