Members Seek U.N. Election Monitors

Posted July 2, 2004 at 5:28pm

Led by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), nearly a dozen Democratic House Members last week called on the United Nations to send monitors to oversee November’s U.S. presidential election.

“We are deeply concerned that the right of U.S. citizens to vote in free and fair elections is again in jeopardy,” the Members wrote in a letter to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, referring to widespread reports of disenfranchisement of blacks and low-income individuals in Florida and throughout the country during the 2000 presidential election.

In addition to citing a 2004 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights status report that found “the potential is real and present for significant problems on voting day that once again will compromise the right to vote,” Members also raised concerns about the impact of “electronic and paperless voting technology” both in the United States and the world.

“The danger that these methodologies could become a standard to be exported and emulated involves broader issues of democracy that should be of concern to the United Nations and the international community as a whole,” they wrote.

Though the request is largely a symbolic gesture, it raises the interesting question of whether the United Nations has the authority to send monitors to observe American elections at the request of U.S. lawmakers.

“It could never be against the wishes of the administration,” said one elections expert, adding that even if the United Nations were considering such an unorthodox move, the United States, which has a permanent seat on the Security Council, could simply veto it.

“The typical reasons why the United Nations would send monitors to go to observe simply are not present,” the expert added, noting that monitors are usually sent as the result of international treaties or in post-conflict situations.

“Let it be a symbolic gesture,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) after being informed that the United Nations could not send monitors against the administration’s wishes. “I certainly do not trust the Bush administration to be interested in an honest election.”

“If we don’t ask — and I’m sure the [Republican National Committee] doesn’t want us to — then we would have no chance whatsoever,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) added in a statement.

Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) said it boiled down to a simple matter of fairness. “We are always sending election monitors to other countries. … I think it’s good to do the same thing” here, he asserted.

All in all, 11 Members signed the letter: Reps. Johnson, Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Davis, Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), Maloney, Nadler, Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Julia Carson (D-Ind.) and Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.).

A spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said the proposal smacked of hypocrisy, charging that Democrats have their own history with voting improprieties.

“Anyone who has knowledge of voting irregularities in the past would really see the irony in Democrats making this move,” said Hastert spokesman John Feehery. “You just have to chuckle.”

But at least one of the letter’s signees was already putting his advice into practice. Honda could not be reached for comment Friday, but for good reason. He was serving as part of a Carter Center team monitoring next week’s presidential elections in Indonesia.