(Photo : Wiki Commons)
Tension between Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and a group of international election observers rose this week after Abbott threatened to arrest the group if they broke Texas voting laws by entering a poll location. According to the Houston Chronicle, Abbott sent a letter to Ambassador Daan Everts at the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe earlier this week.
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Abbott, who noted that the group was "a United Nations partner" in a news release on Tuesday, told Everts he was unclear about the group's intentions in Texas and raised concerns about its meeting with opponents of voter ID initiatives, The Associated Press reported.
The Houston Chronicle reported that Galveston County Chief Deputy Clerk Bill Sargent used his unofficial "elections info" Facebook page to announce, "If one of the UN observers shows up at one of our polling locations they will be asked to leave. If they do not, law enforcement will be called to forcibly remove them. Only election workers, bona fide poll watchers and voters are allowed in at the polling sites!"
Last Friday the OSCE observers were in Bexar County to observe voting preparations, the Chronicle reported. Jacquelyn Callanen, Bexar County elections administrator, told reporters, "For years here in Bexar County, we've been getting international delegations, and it's wonderful. We learn more from them probably than they learn from us."
Laughlin McDonald, voting rights project director for the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Houston Chronicle, "Instead of threatening them with criminal prosecution, Texas should be welcoming additional neutral observers. After all, this is a state with a history of discriminatory voting measures and a voter ID law that threatens minorities' fundamental right to vote."
The group issued a letter of complaint to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after receiving the letter from Abbott. Ambassador Janez Lenareie, director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, told the Chronicle, "The threat of criminal sanctions against OSCE/ODIHR observers is unacceptable."
According to the Chronicle Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade also wrote to Everts to express concern over the politicization of the group in Texas. However, Lenareie assured her that the group's mission "was being conducted 'on the basis of the highest standards of impartiality and professionalism.'"
Everts, who spoke to the AP, said his group is nonpartisan and that Abbott "should be better informed."