Election officials in Wisconsin’s largest county have accused observers for US President Donald Trump of seeking to obstruct a recount of the presidential results, in some instances by objecting to every ballot tabulators pulled to count.
Mr Trump requested the recount in Milwaukee and Dane counties, both heavily liberal, in hopes of undoing Democrat Joe Biden’s victory by about 20,600 votes.
With no precedent for a recount reversing such a large margin, Mr Trump’s strategy is widely seen as aimed at an eventual court challenge, part of a push in key states to undo his election loss.
A steady stream of Republican complaints in Milwaukee was putting the recount far behind schedule, county clerk George Christenson said.
He said many Trump observers were breaking rules by constantly interrupting vote counters with questions and comments.
“That’s unacceptable. (Some of the Trump observers) clearly don’t know what they are doing,” he said.
At least one Trump observer was escorted out by sheriff’s deputies on Saturday after pushing an election official who had lifted her coat from an observer chair.
Another Trump observer was removed on Friday for not wearing a face mask properly as required.
Trump paid $A4.1 million, as required by state law, for the partial recount that began Friday and must conclude by 1 December.
His team is seeking to disqualify ballots where election clerks filled in missing address information on the certification envelope where the ballot is inserted, even though the practice has long been accepted in Wisconsin.
The campaign also alleges thousands of absentee ballots don’t have proper written paperwork, and that some absentee voters improperly declared themselves “indefinitely confined,” a status that allows them to receive a ballot without photo ID.
Those challenges were being rejected.
There have been at least 31 recounts in statewide elections in the US since the most famous one in Florida’s presidential election in 2000.
The recounts changed the outcome of three races. All three were decided by hundreds of votes, not thousands.
At a press conference, senior members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), who have been invited to monitor US elections since 2002, discussed the “highly polarized political environment” and “acrimonious rhetoric” from both sides.
While stressing they were nonpartisan and would not deliver political assessments, the European observers still saved their most damning comments for Trump himself.
“Baseless allegations of systematic deficiencies, notably by the incumbent president, including on election night, harm public trust in democratic institutions,” said Michael Georg Link, a German special coordinator and leader for the short-term observer mission from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.
Urszula Gacek, the Polish head of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, also highlighted Trump’s actions.
“The enormous effort made by election workers … ensured that voters could cast their votes despite legal and technical challenges and deliberate attempts by the incumbent president to weaken confidence in the election process,” she said.
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“If America uses the same formula that we use overseas to see what countries are backsliding in their democracy, then we are backsliding fast,” said one American who had previously monitored elections across three continents but who asked not to be named because she didn’t want to be seen to be speaking for her current employer.
But they seemed particularly shocked by the political rhetoric.
“The two leading presidential candidates accused each other of corruption, fraud, working for foreign interests, an inability to lead, and support for extremist groups,” they wrote. “The incumbent president’s use of discriminatory and pejorative statements against individuals on the grounds of their gender and origin was of particular concern.”
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Unlike Trump, who has sought to falsely declare himself the victor in Tuesday’s election despite votes still being tallied in crucial states, the visiting OSCE observers stressed they were remaining in the US because, as Link said, “the count goes on.”
“Making sure that every vote is counted is a fundamental obligation for all branches of government,” he said.
“The count continues,” added Gacek, “and this election is not yet over.”
International observers said Monday that local elections in Ukraine were “well-organised and transparent”, but criticised a survey organised near polling stations at the initiative of President Volodymyr Zelensky.
On Sunday, the ex-Soviet state of some 40 million people voted to elect mayors and local councils, with no polls in Russia-annexed Crimea and eastern regions controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
Several days before the election, Zelensky announced that voters would be asked to answer five questions on social issues, including the legalisation of medical cannabis.
Analysts and the opposition denounced the move as an attempt by Zelensky to mobilise his party base.
The poll “appeared to create an undue political advantage on election day and blurred the separation of state and party”, observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said in a statement.
On October 25, 2020, Ukraine voted to elect mayors and local councils, with no polls in Russia-annexed Crimea and eastern regions controlled by pro-Russian separatists AFP / Sergei SUPINSKY
The OSCE added that the “voting process was generally calm, well-organised and transparent”.
Despite its landslide win last year, Zelensky’s Servant of the People party suffered a setback in Sunday’s vote, being edged out by rivals in most major cities, exit polls say.
Final results are expected in three to five days, according to the election commission.
Some 5 million Ukrainians took part in the non-binding “opinion poll”.
After analysing three quarters of the questionnaires, the presidential party said that 65 percent of voters approved legalising marijuana for medical purposes while 83 percent were in favour of a life sentence for high-level corruption.
In recent years, international election observers have monitored tumultuous votes in countries like Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Russia. This year, they’re turning their attention back again to the US, a place not normally considered a democracy in danger but looking increasingly chaotic.
Members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) began flying into Washington, DC, last week to prepare for Election Day. But just hours after roughly a dozen OSCE experts officially began working on Sept. 29, the US witnessed one of the ugliest debates in its history — peppered with claims from the sitting president that the election results will be fraudulent unless he wins.
Such language is “usually something that’s criticized by election observers around the world,” said Susan Hyde, a University of California, Berkeley, political science professor who studies election observers and who previously worked as one in seven countries. “I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that would have caught their attention.”
“That’s a dictator,” said one American who previously monitored elections across three continents but who asked not to be named because she didn’t want to be seen to be speaking for her current employer.
“That’s what we see in African countries consistently,” she said, going on to talk specifically about Zimbabwe.
“I’ve never thought in my eight years of working in this industry, that I would be worried about election violence in the US in this day and age,” she added, “but now I wouldn’t put it past us.”
Katya Andrusz, a spokesperson for the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, declined to comment on the current US election, stressing that the organization’s observers, who have been monitoring US elections for 20 years, always remain politically neutral.
Speaking about democracy more broadly, though, she underscored the importance of public confidence in the vote.
“In any country, trust in the process is absolutely vital and if there is anything that’s undermining trust, it’s not healthy for a democracy,” Andrusz said. “A big part of democratic elections is the trust in them, that the system works, that your vote counts.
“If people don’t believe that’s the case, it can weaken public confidence in the democratic process itself.”
Of course, the events of the last few days surrounding the coronavirus outbreak inside the White House have thrown yet another spanner into a tumultuous election season. With doctors warning Trump may still experience severe symptoms of COVID-19 in the days to come, there remains speculation of what might happen if he should die or become too ill to continue in the election — chatter Trump sought to squash on Monday night with a publicized return to the White House from his hospital bed designed to show him as every bit the Strongman leader.
Interest in the US election around the world remains feverish, with international broadcasters airing last week’s debate live (causing translators to struggle) and foreign news sites often leading with the latest political developments.
While international attention is high, global opinions of the US are falling to low levels. A September Pew Research Center survey of 13 nations found that in several countries, the number of people with a positive view of the US was lower than at any point in their almost two decades of polling. The decline is driven in part by perceptions of the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, but also by views of Trump himself. Fewer than 1 in 10 Belgians, for example, have confidence that the US president will do the right thing.
As the president continues to upend democratic norms and undermine public faith in the integrity of the election, experts told BuzzFeed News they fear not only for the US image abroad, but for the US itself.
“Especially from a country that has been promoting election observation, promoting democracy, been a beacon of democracy around the world and thought it was in a position to send observers to other countries to instruct them in the right ways to run elections, it’s discouraging,” said Judith Kelley, the dean of the Duke Sanford School of Public Policy, who has studied such observers extensively. “It’s very, very discouraging.”
Kelly said Trump’s comments at the debate would likely alarm election observers, who would see his attempts to undermine public confidence in the election as a form of voter suppression.
“I also think that Trump was indirectly urging his supporters to engage in voter intimidation and he was indirectly himself engaging in voter suppression by simply discouraging people from believing that this election would matter, that their ballot would be counted,” she said. “Why show up if you think your vote wouldn’t count?”
The president’s debate comments came less than a week after the Trump campaign released a video in which his son Donald Trump Jr. called for supporters to volunteer as partisan election observers, which are permitted under the law. Except Trump Jr. framed his callout in highly militaristic terms. “We need every able-bodied man and woman to join Army for Trump’s election security operation,” he said, calling for people to “defend” their ballots and “enlist.”
“President Trump is going to win. Don’t let them steal it,” Trump Jr. said.
A week before that, supporters of the president disrupted early voting at a site in Virginia, chanting slogans. Some voters and election workers felt intimidated by the group and had to be provided escorts, according to officials.
“You can have voter intimidation without guns,” said John Campbell, who lives in nearby Alexandria and who, as US ambassador to Nigeria, oversaw the team of American diplomats who monitored that country’s 2007 election.
Campbell noted that in Nigeria it is not uncommon for gangs of political supporters to try to intimidate one another. “It’s one of the reasons why elections are very often so violent,” he said, “particularly in the run-up.”
Eric Bjornlund— the board chair of the Election Reformers Network and president of Democracy International, which consults internationally on issues of governance and politics — told BuzzFeed News that “armed politically affiliated gangs” were a feature in some South Asian countries, such as Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.
“There’s a huge tradition of these armed thugs that are affiliated with parties that go around and try to prevent people from voting,” he said. “They would say they’re providing security.”
Bjornlund said he now fears their emergence in the US political arena.
“It’s pretty likely that in another country, if people who are not official police or security forces or rather militia or self-appointed election monitors that are armed and going to polling places, it’s pretty clear we would have a problem with that as the international community and we would call it out,” he said.
Trump’s illness and hospitalization for COVID-19 was also seen by Trump supporters who believe in the QAnon mass delusion as a signal from Trump that he was being sequestered in a safe place so that masses of Democratic politicians, beginning with Hillary Clinton, could be arrested, and that they should prepare for a battle against his political opponents.
Amnesty International USA on Tuesday put out what they said was unprecedented advisory, warning of the threat of gun violence and armed voter intimidation at the polls. Georgetown Law School experts have even prepared 50 fact sheets — one for each state — “explaining the laws barring unauthorized private militia groups and what to do if groups of armed individuals are near a polling place or voter registration drive.”
Even if those self-described militias don’t actually materialize on Election Day, if many voters fear that they could, that is a form of voter suppression, Kelley said.
“You may have voters saying, ‘I don’t feel safe going to the polls. I don’t know who is going to be there.’ And that’s classic voter intimidation,” Kelley said. “And he’s indirectly urging his supporters to engage in that kind of conduct and that’s worrisome.”
Robert Lloyd, the dean of Palm Beach Atlantic University’s school of arts and sciences and who worked as an elections observer in Nigeria, Libera, and Mozambique in the 1990s and 2000s, urged caution. He said any individual incidents of intimidation at polling places should be taken seriously but also had to be put into perspective nationally.
“In terms of [supporters] yelling and screaming at people, that would not be considered appropriate. Can you stop it in a country of 330 million people? Probably not,” he said. “That’s not to dismiss it, but you have to look at the overall picture.”
Still, Lloyd said, his work monitoring heated elections in Africa had taught him leaders should be careful not to use inflammatory language, because ”others may interpret it in ways they don’t mean.”
In another sign of just how unprecedented this election is, the Carter Center, the nongovernmental organization founded by former president Jimmy Carter that monitors elections around the world, is for the first time in its 30-year history turning its attention to the US.
The nonpartisan group announced in August that they were preparing an initiative, which may yet include some election observation, because they feared US democracy was “backsliding.”
“We’ve often thought about this and knew the US could improve or benefit from observation,” Carter Center Director of Democracy David Carroll told BuzzFeed News, “but we never really thought seriously we’d be asked in a serious way to observe in the US as a country that would need observation.”
Carroll said the last five years have seen a marked increase in political polarization and doubts about the credibility of the electoral process in the US. “The sense that people think the election might be stolen, that’s not something that was a widespread concern 20 years ago in the US,” he said. “It’s much more like countries where we work internationally.”
The unnamed former elections observer who spoke with BuzzFeed News cited Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power as a particularly worrying sign for US democracy and one that would tarnish America abroad.
“If America uses the same formula that we use overseas to see what countries are backsliding in their democracy,” she said, “then we are backsliding fast.”
In a report prepared ahead of their visit, the OSCE group mentioned their “concerns over potential use of intolerant rhetoric during the campaign, including inflammatory speech targeting ethnic and racial minorities coming from high level officials.”
It comes two years after the last crop of OSCE observers wrote a report on the 2018 US midterm elections, in which they found that rhetoric used in that campaign to be “often divisive, confrontational and intolerant, with much of it emanating from the national level.”
They recommended that all candidates and supporters refrain from language that incites hostility, discrimination, or violence.
On Wednesday last week, the morning after watching the debate, the president’s performance had done little to reassure Kelley, the Duke Sanford dean, that Trump’s confrontational rhetoric would diminish.
“We’re all getting tired of the word ‘unprecedented,’” she said. “You can only use it so many times before it’s no longer unprecedented.”
BEIJINGl EU observers are free to visit Xinjiang to “truly understand” the situation in the northwestern region where Beijing is accused of widespread rights abuses against the Uighur population, China said Tuesday (Sep 15).
Rights groups say over a million Uighurs languish in political reeducation camps, while a campaign of forced assimilation has targeted academics, religious leaders and activists from mostly Muslim minority groups.
International pressure is building on China’s ruling Communist Party over its actions in the resource-rich region, and on Monday the European Union pressed China to let its independent observers into Xinjiang, binding human rights to future trade and investment deals with Beijing.
In response a foreign ministry spokesman said the bloc was “welcome” to visit the area “to truly understand the real situation and not rely on hearsay.”
“The EU has raised their desire to visit Xinjiang, China has already agreed and is willing to make arrangements,” Wang Wenbin told reporters.
China has rebuffed past calls to grant independent access to Xinjiang, and the spokesman didn’t confirm that EU observers would be allowed to travel freely in the region.
Beijing describes its Xinjiang camps as vocational training centres where education is given to lift the population out of poverty and to chisel away at Islamic radicalism.
China says criticism of its handling of Xinjiang is politically motivated, and based on lies about what happens in the vast facilities it has built.
In December China also invited Arsenal footballer Mesut Ozil to visit Xinjiang and see the situation for himself after he decried the treatment of the Uighurs and criticised Muslim countries for failing to speak up about the alleged abuses.
The EU joins the US in taking China to task over its treatment of minorities in Xinjiang.
On Monday US customs said it would bar a raft of Chinese products including cotton, garments and hair products, from Xinjiang over fears they were made using forced labour.
China on Tuesday slammed the US move as “bullying” and dismissed accusations of forced labour as “a complete fabrication.”