Evidence scant on state lawmaker’s claim about foreign poll observers
by Tim Lockette
Oct 31, 2012 | 4214 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY — Olivia Turner says she’s never invited anyone from United Nations to come and observe Alabama’s elections.

But she could if she wanted to, she said.

“I certainly can’t imagine it being anything but positive,” said Turner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama.

Turner’s organization has been the subject of Internet chatter this week after Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, told a blogger that “several liberal-leaning groups” including the ACLU and the NAACP requested — and got — a United Nations group to “to deploy a team of poll watchers across the country in order to monitor and document potential disputes.”

Hubbard made the comments to Yellow Hammer Politics, a blog run by Cliff Sims, who is also a member of Hubbard’s Commission on the Protection of Alabama Values and States’ Rights.

Hubbard told the blog he planned to introduce a bill to ban all non-U.S. citizens from serving as poll-watchers in Alabama’s elections. He noted efforts by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe — OSCE, which he described as a U.N.-affiliated group — to send poll watchers to the U.S. this year.

“We’ve been holding elections in the U.S. for 223 years without the United Nations playing a role or enforcing the rules, and we certainly do not need them now,” he told the blogger.

Hubbard isn’t the only conservative politician to object to overseas poll observers. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott threatened to arrest foreign observers if they came within 100 feet of Texas polling places, according to a report in the L.A. Times. Both men’s statements were widely repeated on the Internet, where headlines reported that U.N. observers were watching U.S. polls.

Despite the furor, it wasn’t clear whether any actual United Nations poll watchers have ever set foot in an Alabama polling place.

Asked for evidence of U.N. poll watchers working in Alabama, Hubbard spokesman Josh Blades said he did not have any confirmed reports of that activity. Asked for further comment, Blades sent The Star a prepared statement by Hubbard, which appeared to be identical to his statement on the blog.

The OSCE is not the same as the United Nations. According to its website, the group is a 56-nation organization that emerged in the Cold War detente period of the 1970s to facilitate East-West communication. The group’s website does list the United Nations as a “primary partner.”

The organization’s website also lists two teams of observers, 57 people in total, who are assigned to observe the 2012 elections in the United States.

It’s not a new development. OSCE reports on U.S. elections go back to 2002, when the country was implementing election reforms in the wake of the 2000 presidential election recount. According to those documents, the organization was invited to observe elections by the U.S. Department of State under the Bush administration.

Turner, of the ACLU, said she’d not heard any effort by the national ALCU headquarters to invite election officials. She said she was unable to contact the national headquarters, which is in New York, because of the effects of the storm there. The Star’s efforts to reach the United Nations, also headquartered in New York, were unsuccessful.

Turner said two visitors from OSCE had left their cards at her office while she was out, a week or so ago. The Star called one of those visitors, British citizen James Morrison, and he confirmed that he was a member of an OSCE election observing team.

“Watching’ is a strong word” for what the observers do, Morrison said. He said he doubted OSCE observers would actually enter polling places in Alabama during the election. Morrison deferred further questions to staffers in OSCE’s Washington, D.C., office, saying it was their role to comment on the process. Attempts to reach an OSCE spokesperson in the Washington office were unsuccessful late Wednesday.

The organization did send out a press release last week, criticizing Texas officials’ threats to arrest poll observers.

“The United States, like all countries in the OSCE, has an obligation to invite… observers to observe its elections,” OSCE Ambassador Janez Lenarcic said in the release. The United States is a member of the OSCE.

Hubbard isn’t the first Alabama lawmaker to invoke the name of the U.N. in proposing legislation. Earlier this year, lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to pass a law to ban implementation of Agenda 21, a U.N. environmental plan.

Capitol & statewide correspondent: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.
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