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The Conversation

International election observers evaluating US midterm elections will face limitations

October 31, 2018

Author

Judith Kelley

Dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University

Disclosure statement

Judith Kelley receives funding from the National Science Foundation. She is registered to vote as a Democrat in the United States.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, is sending international election observers to the 2018 U.S. midterm election.

American voters may be surprised to learn such visits are routine. In fact, this will be the seventh such visit since 2002.

This year, with the ongoing Mueller probe about election meddling and concerns about cybersecurity, the election observers are likely to encounter a growing climate of distrust among U.S. voters about elections and the voting process.

A growing practice

As I describe in my book “Monitoring Democracy,” international election observers are representatives from intergovernmental organizations or nongovernmental organizations from other countries. They monitor elections during the pre-election period, on election day and during the post-election period.

The OSCE, created in 1972, is one of the most active groups that monitors elections around the world. All 57 member states, including the U.S., have agreed to allow the OSCE to monitor their elections.

Election monitoring has grown dramatically since the end of the Cold War. At first, election monitors focused on emerging democracies such as those in Eastern Europe. But in an effort to be more egalitarian, observation missions to established democracies such as the United States have become common.

Monitoring teams usually fan out across the country and compile their observations into national reports. They make recommendations not only about the conduct of the polling, but also about the electoral system and political environment more broadly.

Hacking and disenfranchisement

In the 2016 general U.S. elections, OSCE observers praised the integrity and conduct of voting, but raised concerns about the candidates’ campaigns using “harsh personal attacks.” They also noted voting rights were denied to some citizens, due to “recent legal changes and decisions on technical aspects of the electoral process [that] were often motivated by partisan interests.” Some of the OSCE recommendations have been addressed. For example, the 2018 pre-election assessment noted that “there is an emerging trend among states to ease restrictions on the restoration of voting rights for ex-prisoners, in line with prior OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights recommendations.”

Still, two years later, many of the concerns from the 2016 report remain. In June 2018, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said its U.S. midterm election monitors should focus on concerns about “voter rights, registration and identification, security of election technologies, alternative voting methods, campaign finance, and the conduct of the electoral campaign, particularly online and in the media.”

Traditional voter fraud, such as impersonation at the polls, is rare. Instead, Americans are worried about hacking and disenfranchisement – voters having their ballots disqualified or being prevented or discouraged from voting at all.

For example, civil rights groups in Georgia sued, arguing that a voter registration law requiring an “exact match” between a registration form and voter’s existing identification suppressed minority votes. In Florida, Georgia and North Carolina rising rates of voter registration purges have raised concerns that people – again mostly minority voters – might be removed without justification. And in other states extreme gerrymandering leads some voters to think their votes are unimportant, because even large changes in the votes a party receives can lead to no change in the number of seats that party wins.

Limited scope

My own research, as well as that of others, has found that election observers can – under some conditions – lead to improvements in conduct and quality of elections.

However, this year’s mission to the U.S. will be small. The 2016 U.S. general election had 400 observers.

Because it is a midterm election, the 2018 mission will feature only 13 international experts in Washington, D.C., plus 36 observers who will go to locations throughout the country.

The observers also are limited in where they can go. Although all OSCE member nations are obligated to allow observers to visit their elections, 12 U.S. states – including Alabama, Florida and Ohio – actually prohibit the presence of international observers. This is possible because election laws are made at the state level in the United States, and states have varied preferences. Instead, these states only allow party or candidate-affiliated observers from their own state.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to strike down parts of the Voting Rights Act has reduced domestic election oversight. Previously, the federal Department of Justice had to review proposed election law changes in 15 states – in whole or in part – where history suggests racial discrimination might occur. Many, but not all, of the supervised jurisdictions were in the South.

While the United States has been on the forefront of sending various observer missions to other countries, the OSCE is the only serious group that conducts international election observation in the United States. With such a small mission, their influence will be limited.

As a result, their presence and insights are likely to remain, as they have in past U.S. elections, largely under the radar, stimulating discussion mostly among insiders. Still, such discussion can be valuable to signal to other countries that the U.S. is willing to hold itself accountable for its electoral integrity.

Is China a “Responsible Great Power”?

By Mel Gurtov

President Xi Jinping would like everyone to pay attention to how China is exerting leadership in world affairs as a “responsible great power.” While the Trump administration is in retreat, Xi is taking full advantage of the leadership vacuum. He has, for example, emphatically supported globalization in response to Trump’s narrow nationalism, promised many billions of dollars in aid to developing countries that have signed up for the Belt and Road Initiative, promoted energy conservation and solar power at home, tried to play the honest broker in the North Korea-US dispute over nuclear weapons, and contributed importantly to UN peacekeeping missions. Xi can certainly claim that China is a major player on the most pressing international issues, but how responsible a great power is it?

China’s international record has a number of significant blemishes. It has defied a ruling of an arbitral tribunal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea that censured China’s military buildup and ecologically damaging activities in the disputed South China Sea islands. It has tried to create an air defense zone in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) to keep US, Japanese, and other aircraft out of another disputed area. It has been putting pressure on Taiwan’s government to dissuade it from any movement toward independence or increased official contacts with the US.

Here I want to focus on two other rather blatant demonstrations of international irresponsibility. Both relate to large-scale violations of human rights: the mass incarceration of Uyghurs in Xinjiang Province and support of the Myanmar (Burma) government’s ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority. China’s failure to acknowledge these major abuses of human rights is consistent with Xi’s repression of dissent at home and concentration of power in the party-state, both to an extent not seen since the Mao era. But these are not ordinary abuses: They involve large, homogenous populations whose cultures are being systematically wiped out.

By now the Xinjiang roundup of Muslim families, perhaps a million people in all, has been widely reported and internationally condemned. The “reeducation centers,” sometimes also dubbed “counter-extremism training centers,” have been captured on satellite photos and video. Uyghurs, who are still the ethnic majority in Xinjiang, have been imprisoned in an effort, justified as counter-terrorism, to change their language, religion, and way of life—in short, ensure that their primary identity and loyalty is to the Chinese party-state. Now that the party’s secret is out, some Chinese officials have painted an entire population as enemies of the state who must be under surveillance at all times. It’s an Orwellian situation, with face-recognition cameras everywhere, the rule of law entirely absent, and tens of thousands of Han Chinese minders dispatched to villages to live with and report on Uyghur families.

In Myanmar, the most recent United Nations investigation casts the situation as “an ongoing genocide.” More than 700,000 Muslim Rohingyas have been driven from their homes into Bangladesh. Myanmar tried, with China’s support, to block the lead investigator’s briefing of the Security Council. He said: “The Myanmar government’s hardened positions are by far the greatest obstacle. Its continued denials, its attempts to shield itself under the cover of national sovereignty and its dismissal of 444 pages of details about the facts and circumstances of recent human rights violations that point to the most serious crimes under international law.” The investigator suggested referring the matter to the International Criminal Court.

Sadly, the UN special investigator on human rights in Myanmar reports that Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and de facto leader of the country, “is in total denial” about the brutal military campaign of rape, murder and torture of Rohingya. “Right now, it’s like an apartheid situation where Rohingyas still living in Myanmar … have no freedom of movement,” the special investigator said. “The camps, the shelters, the model villages that are being built, it’s more of a cementing of total segregation or separation from the Rakhine ethnic community.”

China’s support of the Myanmar government’s intransigence is founded on the noninterference principle, a perfectly respectable principle except when it becomes a convenient excuse for ignoring terrible events next door by pretending it’s wrong to speak out. Criticism of the military is not “helpful” and the situation is “complicated,” Chinese officials have said. They have called for “dialogue,” as though the rampaging Myanmar military has the slightest interest in talking. “Dialogue” is China’s alternative to Security Council and General Assembly resolutions that China has voted against since 2007.

Most likely, Chinese policy is motivated by Beijing’s treatment of its own ethnic minorities: avoid internationalizing inhumane behavior outside China that is going on inside China. Evidently, support of human rights for all is not part of being a “responsible great power,” whereas support of crackdowns on innocent minority peoples is.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

The Conversation

Extreme political polarization weakens democracy – can the US avoid that fate?

October 31, 2018

Author

Jennifer Lynn McCoy

Distinguished University Professor of Political Science, Georgia State University

Disclosure statement

Jennifer Lynn McCoy receives funding from National Science Foundation.

Partners

Georgia State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.

The midterm elections are approaching during one of the most polarized moments in recent American politics.

A collaborative research project I led on polarized democracies around the world examines the processes by which societies divide into political “tribes” and democracy is harmed.

Based on a study of 11 countries including the U.S., Turkey, Hungary, Venezuela, Thailand and others, we found that when political leaders cast their opponents as immoral or corrupt, they create “us” and “them” camps – called by political scientists and psychologists “in-groups” and “out-groups” – in the society.

In this tribal dynamic, each side views the other “out group” party with increasing distrust, bias and enmity.

Perceptions that “If you win, I lose” grow. Each side views the other political party and their supporters as a threat to the nation or their way of life if that other political party is in power.

For that reason, the incumbent’s followers tolerate more illiberal and increasingly authoritarian behavior to stay in power, while the opponents are more and more willing to resort to undemocratic means to remove them from power.

This damages democracy.

Are Americans now stuck in animosity and anger that will undermine democracy, or can the nation pull out of it?

Politicians divide

Our research finds that severe polarization is affected by three primary factors.

First, it is often stimulated by the rhetoric of political leaders who exploit the real grievances of voters. These politicians choose divisive issues to highlight in order to pursue their own political agenda.

In other words, what a leader says is as important as what she or he does.

Since launching his campaign, President Donald Trump has vilified so-called external enemies such as “criminal and rapist” Mexican immigrants, terrorist Muslims and foreign allies out to drain America’s coffers through “unfair trade deficits.” Now, the president is targeting internal enemies.

He has famously labeled the media “the enemy of the people” and recently accused the Democrats of unleashing an “angry mob” unfit to govern.

Such unprecedented attacks by a president of the United States seemed designed to discredit his critics and delegitimize his political opponents. But they also trigger the dynamics of polarized politics by reinforcing the notion that politics is an “us versus them” contest.

By August 2017, just eight months after Trump took office, three-quarters of Republicans had negative views of Democrats, and 70 percent of Democrats viewed Republicans negatively.

This was a large increase compared with the mid-1990s, when about 20 percent of each party had unfavorable views of the other party.

Even more disturbing for democracy, roughly half of voters of each party say the other party makes them feel afraid, and growing numbers view the policies of the other party as a threat to the nation.

America’s recent political polarization did not begin with Trump. It has been growing since the 1990s and accelerated under President Barack Obama, when the Tea Party formed in reaction to his election, and bipartisanship broke down in the Congress.

By 2016, 45 percent of Republicans felt threatened by Democratic policies, and 41 percent of Democrats viewed Republican policies as a threat, up nearly 10 points in just two years.

Our research shows that in extreme polarization, people feel distant from and suspicious of the “other” camp. At the same time, they feel loyal to, and trusting of, their own camp – without examining their biases or factual basis of their information.

Although this is a common phenomenon long identified by social psychology, it is even more pronounced in the age of social media 24-hour news cycles and more politicized media outlets who repeat and amplify the political attacks.

Most dangerously, words can unleash actual violence by avid supporters seeking approval from the leader or simply inspired to carry out an attack against the designated “enemy,” as we saw when supporters of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela attacked a media mogul whom Chávez had labeled public enemy number one.

Similarly, last week an avid Trump supporter sent pipe bomb mailers to prominent Trump opponents, and the killings in a synagogue in Pittsburgh were carried out by a man who used similar language to Trump’s assertion that the U.S. was being invaded by a caravan of Central Americans.

Polarization, though, is a two-way street.

Both sides now

How the political opposition reacts is the second factor explaining the impact of polarization on democracy.

If the opposition returns the bitter rhetoric with similar political hardball and demonizing language, they risk locking in place a cycle that leads to entrenching the politics of polarization.

A perceived political win may in fact prove to be an eventual defeat.

That happened in 2013 when the Democratic Party changed the long-standing rule that nominees to federal judgeships needed 60 Senate votes to end debate and move to a confirmation vote.

To overcome Republican obstruction under Obama, the Democrats who held a majority in the Senate at the time abandoned that rule and decreed that only 51 votes would be needed for all federal judgeships – except the Supreme Court.

Eventually the majority party becomes once again the minority. That’s what happened when Republicans gained the majority in 2014 and blocked Obama’s last nomination for a Supreme Court justice.

When Democrats retaliated by filibustering Trump’s first nominee for the Supreme Court, the Republican Party escalated the fight and abolished the century-old filibuster rule even for the highest court in the land. They approved Justice Brett Kavanaugh with only a single Democratic vote.

Backing away from polarization

The third, and most difficult, obstacle is what our research found about the underlying basis of polarization.

When countries polarize around rifts that reflect unresolved debates present at the country’s formation, then that polarization is most likely to be enduring and harmful.

The U.S. was founded on unequal citizenship rights for African-Americans, Native Americans and women. As these groups reasserted their rights in the 1960s civil rights movement and the 1970s women’s movement, polarization around these rights and changing group status grew.

The same is true for the growing diversity of religion, gender and ethnicity in the workplace and society since the 1980s, which has become an added polarizing issue in U.S. politics.

Can the U.S. overcome the dynamics of polarization, where certain phenomena – divisive and demonizing rhetoric, tit-for-tat political retribution and long-standing unresolved rifts – lead to diminished democracy?

Our research shows that the most democratic of actions – participating in elections – is exactly the thing to do to help reduce polarization.

To avoid deepening the state of division and distrust that seems to pervade our society, both political leaders and citizens must play a part. Simply withdrawing from politics is not effective.

Citizens can protect themselves and their democracy by being aware of the political and psychological workings of polarization and the early warning signs of democratic erosion.

They can refuse to participate in the trap of demonizing politics, while insisting on voting massively against those who use polarizing methods.

Political leaders should be conscious that their words and actions can advance, prevent or reverse severe polarization.

For those who prioritize winning for their team above all, the realization that they will eventually be the losers of their re-engineered rules should be sobering – whether it is eliminating the filibuster in the U.S. Senate or the right to gerrymander electoral districts.

For those who have a broader perspective focused on the collective interests and welfare of the society, understanding the logic of polarization that blocks cooperative problem-solving could instill the courage to cross the divide rather than reciprocate pernicious polarizing strategies.

The ultimate solution to depolarize the contentiousness around national identity and citizenship rights that divides the U.S., however, requires addressing these debates head-on.

With a spirit of inquiry, generosity and openness, rather than blame and vilification, the U.S. can move past the bitter divisions that threaten the democratic foundations of the country.

OHIO EGG FARMERS HOST SEVENTH ANNUAL PJS AND EGGS EVENT BENEFITTING NATIONWIDE CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL

Local Families Donate Pajamas, Eat Breakfast for Dinner at Central Ohio Restaurants

COLUMBUS, Ohio (November 1, 2018) – On October 25, the Ohio Egg Marketing Program hosted the seventh annual PJs and Eggs event in partnership with 11 central Ohio restaurants, regularly open for breakfast and lunch. For one night only, the restaurants re-opened their doors from 5 p.m. to close to serve breakfast for dinner to benefit Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Guests were encouraged to wear pajamas to dinner and bring new kids’ pajamas to donate to Nationwide Children’s Hospital to benefit children receiving care and services through the hospital’s Columbus-wide treatment network. This year’s event raised $2,080 in monetary donations and 1,475 pairs of pajamas. To date, PJs and Eggs has raised more than $11,500 in monetary contributions for Nationwide Children’s Hospital and nearly 8,800 pairs of pajamas.

Participating restaurants included: Beechwold Diner, Gena’s Restaurant, Café Creekside (Gahanna), Lilly’s Kitchen Table, and seven Sunny Street Café central Ohio locations. At each participating restaurant, an Ohio egg farmer was on-site to answer diners’ questions about egg farming and the role eggs play in a healthy diet. Diners who donated pajamas also received a free dozen eggs to take home.

“It’s been our pleasure to support Nationwide Children’s Hospital for seven years through our annual PJs and Eggs event,” said Jim Chakeres, executive vice president of the Ohio Poultry Association. “PJs and Eggs is a great opportunity to connect consumers with egg farmers to answer questions about egg nutrition and egg farming in Ohio, all while supporting a great cause during a fun, family-friendly evening.”

Ohio is one of the largest egg farming states in the nation, producing 9.5 billion eggs per year, with an estimated retail value of approximately $411.9 million.

For more information about the event, visit www.PJsandEggsOhio.com. For recipes and more information about egg nutrition, visit www.OhioEggs.com.

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THEIR VIEW

Staff Reports