On Tuesday, Nov. 8, record numbers of international election observers will be present to monitor polling place activity throughout the United States. You might guess that the increase in observers is due to the unprecedentedly divisive nature of this election, but it's not. In fact, the significant increase in election observers mostly centers around legal and political changes in the country over the past few years.
The international observers for the 2016 election will come from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Organization of American States (OAS), which are sending approximately 400 and 35 observers, respectively. These numbers mark a significant increase from last year's presidential election, where the OSCE sent only 57 observers and the OAS sent none.
The role of international election observers is exactly what it sounds like: they're there to observe the voting process during an election, not interfere with them. Audrey Glover, who will head the OSCE observation mission on Election Day, stated to the Washington Post, “We are not policemen. We would not interfere. We would not intervene. We would observe, and record if we see anything untoward happening." Following observations, election observers compose post-election reports and make related suggestions for improvements based on their observations.
According to the OSCE's Needs Assessment Mission Report for the U.S. Elections, the organization decided to readily increase the number of observers it was sending because it wanted to observe the impact of a number of significant changes on the voting process. These include changes to the Voting Rights Act and related changes to voter registration and ID laws, new voting technologies, and new campaign financing rules.
The OSCE stressed that the weakening of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 is one of the major reasons behind the increase in observers. For example, it's prompted many states to set new and stricter voting restrictions, some of which could possibly disenfranchise certain groups of voters, particularly minorities. Secondly, the OSCE also indicated that the introduction of extensive and varied new voting technologies in this election call for additional observation. Particularly, this is because of the possibility that the machines could malfunction. Finally, some OSCE officials also expressed concern about the campaign rhetoric in this election, as it negatively targeted both women and minorities.
Like the OSCE, the OAS will also be present to observe and record learnings from the U.S. electoral process; however, observers from the OAS are largely present to set an example for future election observations throughout the Americas. The U.S. Government invited the delegation to observe U.S. elections for the first time as a means of encouraging other countries in the OAS to allow observers in the country for their own elections, a good deal of which are forthcoming in 2017. Nonetheless, OAS observers will obviously still play an important role alongside OSCE observers in documenting the election, and will likewise write an accompanying post-election report and recommendations.
Though having extra election observers seems like a bad thing, the nation could put their findings to good use. In addition to reporting on the impact of new laws and policies, they could help combat the election "rigging" rhetoric that Donald Trump has been so inclined to make his supporters believe. Thus, while the observers may have not been sent to the country for the reasons you'd expect, they'll ensure that the elections are perceived as free and fair, and help combat any accusations of "rigging" post-Nov. 8.