For the first time ever, the Organization of American States (OAS) will monitor the upcoming US presidential elections, putting the United States in the same league as Haiti and other politically volatile Latin American countries.
That’s largely thanks to Republican candidate Donald Trump. Following his recent downward slide in the polls, he’s been stepping up claims that the November 8 elections will be rigged, calling into question the very legitimacy of US democracy.
“Of course there is large-scale voter fraud happening on and before Election Day,” Trump tweeted on October 17.
Trump claims, without evidence, that huge numbers of dead people and undocumented immigrants will vote, and his campaign cites a 2012 Pew Center study saying that more than 1.2 million dead people are listed as voters. But a Loyola Law School study found only 31 known cases of voter impersonation fraud in 1 billion votes cast in US elections between 2000 and 2014.
The head of the OAS observation mission to the US election, former Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, told me in an interview that the outside scrutiny was requested by the US government on June 30.
The OAS has been monitoring elections in Latin America and the Caribbean for the past 50 years, most recently in Haiti, Guatemala, Colombia and Peru. Usually, governments request these missions to generate domestic and foreign confidence in the electoral process, and to help prevent post-electoral violence.
In this case, the OAS will deploy election observers in up to 15 US states, including New York, California, Ohio, Georgia and Pennsylvania. Florida will not be included because of a state law that prohibits such outside election missions, she said.
Chinchilla told me that the OAS is more than happy to conduct its US observation mission, among other things because it will help debunk a frequent excuse by Latin American authoritarian regimes for not accepting outside electoral monitoring missions. “Many of them say, ‘If the United States doesn’t allow observers, why should we?’” she explained.
Asked whether there are legitimate reasons to fear that the US elections will be rigged, Chinchilla offered a qualified no: “Up to now, based on what we have advanced in conversations with representatives of US state and national electoral organizations, we cannot say that there are any indications that there could be a fraud on a national scale.”
Sure, there are individual objections to voter registration lists, but they have come from both Republicans and Democrats, she said. And, “they follow historical US election patterns,” meaning that there are no more complaints of irregularities than in previous elections, she added.
Chinchilla said that it would be very difficult to rig an election in the United States, “because the country has a hyper-diversified electoral system, in which each state counts its own votes, and there are no unified databases that could facilitate a nationwide conspiracy.”
Trump’s claim that the Democratic Party will rig the elections also would be hard to pull off because most swing states — including Florida and Ohio — have Republican governors or Republican-appointed officials who oversee the vote count, Chinchilla said.
My opinion: Trump has been stepping up his claims about allegedly rigged elections in order to divert media attention from the videotape in which he boasted about assaulting women, and from the growing numbers of women who have since said they were assaulted by him. And his diversionary tactic seems to be working: We are all talking about his “rigged elections” claim now.
But the OAS observation mission should be welcome because — much like in Haiti, Guatemala or other countries in which the OAS has monitored elections — there is a real danger of post-election political conflict in the United States.
Trump’s wild claims of a conspiracy against him are finding many followers. A new poll by Politico.com/MorningConsult found that 41 per cent of likely voters say the November election could be “stolen” from Trump due to voter fraud.
By threatening to violate the basic democratic principle of respecting the electoral outcome whether his ticket wins or loses, Trump is attacking democracy itself. The OAS mission to observe the US election — and the fact that many of us are welcoming it — is just the latest reminder of how low this populist demagogue has already dragged the country.