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Local lawmaker's bill criminalizing U.N. observers passes

March 21st, 2014 9:49 pm by Gary B. Gray

Local lawmaker's bill criminalizing U.N. observers passes

Rep. Micah Van Huss

Legislation sponsored by state Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, aimed at preventing members of the United Nations from monitoring elections in Tennessee passed the full House Thursday by a vote of 75-20.

Van Huss originally introduced the bill last year, but it died in the Senate State and Local Government Committee.

The bill comes in response to a November 2012 occurrence where a partner of the United Nations came to the state to monitor for “human rights violations” after a law was enacted requiring photo identification to vote.

Van Huss’s legislation specifies that any representative of the United Nations who enters the state loses all official status and prohibits such a representative from operating in Tennessee in any official capacity. It also makes the violation of the prohibition a Class C misdemeanor.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a U.N. partner on democratization and human rights projects, has said comparing the state’s photo ID law to a human rights violation is unfounded and untrue. The group has been monitoring United States’ elections for the better part of a decade now, but Republicans say OSCE members are consorting with liberal activists to watch for any hint of voter suppression by conservatives.

“It is a good thing when other nations take time to observe our election process in order to better elections in their own countries,” Van Huss said Thursday. “However, I am certainly not OK with the United Nations or other foreign groups coming to our state to monitor our elections for things like human rights violations. The state of Tennessee, just like the United States, is not accountable to the United Nations or any other foreign entity.”

The OSCE deployed more than 40 observers from its human rights office around the country on Election Day two years ago to monitor an array of activities, including potential disputes at polling places. The effort was part of a broader mission that deployed an additional 80 to 90 members from nearly 30 countries.

Two days prior to Election Day in 2012, the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and others, sent a letter to the OSCE to warn of “a coordinated political effort to disenfranchise millions of Americans — particularly traditionally disenfranchised groups like minorities.”

Neil Simon, director of communications for the OSCE’s parliamentary assembly, agreed the U.N. does not have jurisdiction over U.S. elections but noted all OSCE member countries, which includes the United States, have committed since 1990 to hold free and democratic elections and to allow one another to observe their elections.

OSCE Spokeswoman Giovanna Maiola told thehill.com that observers take in the overall election process, not just the ballot casting.

“They are focusing on a number of areas on the state level, including the legal system, election administration, the campaign, the campaign financing (and) new voting technologies used in the different states,” she said.

Other instances of monitoring the voting process:

• The U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division deploys federal observers and department personnel to various state and jurisdictions during general elections. It did this in Davidson and Shelby counties in 2012.

Although state and local governments have primary responsibility for administering elections, the Civil Rights Division is charged with enforcing the federal voting rights laws that protect the rights of all citizens to access the ballot.

• In 2012, the OSCE came under fire from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who publicly threatened to arrest foreign observers attempting to enter voting places in violation of Texas law. Abbott told The Huffington Post that “groups and individuals from outside the United States are not allowed to influence or interfere with the election process in Texas.”

An OSCE spokesman said the mission’s 57 international monitors would continue with plans to observe U.S. polling places, but in ways that would not violate state laws.

• On March 8, prior to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a multinational group of military officers with an OSCE convoy were denied access to the Russia-controlled peninsula and were met with warning bursts of automatic weapons from pro-Russian armed forces at a checkpoint. The convoy consisted of military personnel from 28 countries, including the United States, according to the Associated Press.

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