The world will be watching from close-up when the United States chooses a president next month, as foreign election observers fan out to polling places across the country. For the first time, the Organization of American States (OAS) will dispatch 30 to 40 observers and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has been sending small groups of observers to U.S. elections since 2002, hopes to boost its contingent dramatically, fielding hundreds of poll watchers. Even Russia, where 63 U.S. observers traveled for parliamentary elections last month, is considering sending people to watch Americans vote, according to Yury Melnik, a spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington. The plethora of poll watchers — some of whom are veteran monitors of elections in countries where voter fraud is rampant — is another sign that the 2016 contest is unlike any other.
Usually, the United States sends observers to countries where the vote is in some manner suspect. This year, America is on the receiving end of the scrutiny. One reason is concern over new voter registration and identification laws passed by the states as well as diminished Justice Department oversight since parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act were struck down by the Supreme Court.
Adding to the spike in interest is the allegation by Republican nominee Donald Trump that the election could be “rigged.” He has called on his supporters to go to polling places to act as a deterrent to potential fraud.
Some of the foreign observers take pains to stress they are no more than what their name implies. They insist they will not intervene on Election Day but will instead publish their observations in postelection reports and make suggestions to improve any practices they find wanting. “We are not policemen,” said Audrey Glover, a British Dame with the rank of ambassador who will head the OSCE mission here. “We would not interfere. We would not intervene. We would observe, and record if we see anything untoward happening.”