Soon after the hanging chad debacle of its presidential election in 2000, the United States humbly decided it was perhaps not the greatest democracy on earth. It needed foreign help to ensure the integrity of its voting process. Ever since, an unsung 57-nation body that sets the gold standard for observing foreign elections has been invited to track U.S. elections for their transparency and accountability. Now in the days before the Nov. 3 vote, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is back.
In contrast to the malicious foreign actors of the 2016 elections, the Vienna-based OSCE is offering an example of benevolent foreign interference. Its 100-plus observers are already in place and stand ready to be impartial judges in case American institutions, from town governments to the Supreme Court, fail at the task of determining a fair and free election.
In an election as contentious as this one, “it is all the more important to have a neutral, nonpartisan group of international observers who are taking account of the entire process,” says Urszula Gacek, a former Polish politician who leads the OSCE delegation.
The intergovernmental watchdog is being joined for the first time by the Atlanta-based Carter Center, which has monitored more than 110 elections in 39 countries over three decades. The center, founded by former President Jimmy Carter, has lately designated the U.S. as a “backsliding” democracy.
Healthy democracies elsewhere are closely watching the highly polarized contest between former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump. Those countries will need to offer “measured clarity,” writes Oxford University professor Timothy Garton Ash in the Financial Times, to “contribute, at the margin, to a more civilized US process.”
By their mere presence, foreign election observers can help build up trust in domestic institutions, especially in the complex task of mail-in voting. They serve as a reminder of international norms about democracy, from equality in voting to fairness in ballot counting. Americans are not alone in their battle over the 2020 election. They have the support of nations wanting the U.S. to again reflect the universal values of democratic government.