Are U.S. Elections Free and Fair? Let Foreigners Decide.

Are U.S. Elections Free and Fair? Let Foreigners Decide.

By Taylor Mayol


Because the president of the United States is the president of the world, really. 

By Taylor Mayol

In Toliara, a rural town in the far southwest corner of Madagascar, the locals ask about U.S. politics. Same thing in Tanjung Selor, in Indonesia’s remote north, and in Haiti’s farthest reaches and the villages of India: No matter where in the world we go, no matter who sits in the Oval Office, we can’t escape American politics.

As it should be. The United States is, after all, the most powerful country on Earth. Our trade policies and geopolitical pursuits affect almost every inch of the globe. The very mood of our commander in chief can spell bounty or destruction for some of the poorest nations. So why shouldn’t their citizens play a role in ensuring that the leader of the free world is elected fair and square — by monitoring our elections?

As it happens, election observation goes the other way around: Rich nations tend to send observers to poor countries. In polling season, Westerners descend upon Lagos, Caracas, Cape Town, Kingston. They scrutinize voter registration and privacy provisions, preside over the counting of ballots and triple check the accuracy of transmissions. Now, imagine foreign academics and policy wonks filling swanky hotel bars and regaling one another with tales of endless lines in Arizona, or hanging chads in Florida, or the thousands of New Yorkers mysteriously removed from the voter rolls.

Of course, our democracy isn’t fraught with voter fraud, violence and intimidation, which is the norm in countries like Zimbabwe. But it has issues, around voter ID, gerrymandering and access to polls. “No democracy is perfect,” says David Carroll, director of democracy programs for the Carter Center, known for its election observation work abroad. In response to “frequent inquiries” from domestic citizens and officials, the Carter Center is undertaking a massive study on what foreign election observation missions would look like in the U.S. These missions are “designed to help improve election integrity, opening [the system] up to review and assessment,” Carroll says. 

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A billboard of Donald Trump in the backyard of George Davey’s home on Jan. 31, 2016.

Source Charles Ommanney / Getty

Although the U.S. signed a 1990 agreement to allow observers with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to monitor its elections, such observers have played a mostly symbolic role — and some people hate on them anyway. When OSCE monitors planned to observe the 2012 elections in Texas, the state attorney general lashed out, threatening to arrest any monitors in the vicinity of polling places. (A representative for the Texas secretary of state directed OZY to a letter to the OSCE that stated that “groups and individuals from outside the United States are not allowed to influence or interfere with the election process in Texas.”) 

But why hide if there is nothing to hide? We’re the greatest democracy in the world. Let’s make sure we keep it that way.

Do you think the U.S. should practice what it preaches? Or is this a gross violation of our sovereignty? Let us know in the comments.