Published October 31, 2012
Iowa has joined Texas in cautioning international poll watchers against getting too close to the voting sites next week – warning that anyone who breaks state law by doing so can be arrested.
The warning to monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe came in a statement this week by Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz. He said he welcomes the monitors to Iowa, but he warned against trying to “gain access” to Iowa polling sites on Election Day.
“My office met with two delegation representatives last week to discuss Iowa’s election process, and it was explained to them that they are not permitted at the polls,” Schultz said. “Iowa law is very specific about who is permitted at polling places, and there is no exception for members of this group.”
Schultz went on to say that Iowa law “states that poll workers ‘shall order the arrest’ of any persons violating these provisions.”
While the United States is one of dozens of members of the OSCE, the Iowa warning was similar to one issued last week by Texas officials. The group has sent monitors to U.S. polling sites since 2002 -- but this year, Texas took exception to what officials perceived as a challenge to the latest wave of voter ID laws.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, in a letter to the OSCE, threatened to prosecute any observer who breaks state law by getting too close to any polling site.
"The OSCE may be entitled to its opinions about Voter ID laws, but your opinion is legally irrelevant in the United States," he wrote. He went on to remind representatives that they are not allowed to enter a polling place, and cautioned against going within 100 feet of the entrance.
The letter touched off a flurry of testy tweets and correspondence that brought in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to play ref. Janez Lenarcic, director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, fired off a letter to Clinton to complain -- which was followed by a letter from Abbott to Clinton reiterating his concerns.
"The threat of criminal sanctions against OSCE/ODIHR observers is unacceptable," Lenarcic said in a statement. "The United States, like all countries in the OSCE, has an obligation to invite ODIHR observers to observe its elections."
OSCE officials say they plan to adhere to state laws while in the U.S.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Thursday acknowledged Clinton had received letters from both sides and tried to offer assurances.
She said the plan to send observers "isn't any different" from past years.
South Carolina Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said Friday that the OSCE observers are also expected to come to his state, where officials have pushed a similar voter ID law that is not yet in effect. But Whitmire said South Carolina does not share Texas' concerns.
"Whoever wants to come observe South Carolina elections, we welcome them," he told FoxNews.com. "We want our election to be as open as possible."