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2012-11-01

Election 'observers' given boot in Bandera

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

"I didn't know who those people were. They were just standing there while I was trying to help voters," said Bandera County Election Administrator Toba Perez-Wright in an interview on Thursday, Oct. 25.
"Those people" appeared at the Ray Mauer Annex during early voting on Tuesday, Oct. 23. The duo were, according to their business cards, "long term observers" dispatched from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in Washington DC to monitor voting in the State of Texas.
Melanie Leathers of the United Kingdom and Conny Jensen of Denmark arrived at the polling place on 12th Street while Perez-Wright was signing people in to vote. "They asked for me by name and told me that they had spoken with Keith Ingram at the Texas Secretary of State's Office," Perez-Wright said, adding, "He's pretty high up in the Secretary of State's office. They said Mr. Ingram 'knew we were coming'."
Ingram serves as director of the elections division with the office of the Texas Secretary of State
According to Perez-Wright, everything the duo told her was very general and non-specific. "I didn't understand what they were supposed to be doing," she said. "I didn't receive Keith Ingram's email about the observers until they had already left."
An email Perez-Wright received later on Oct. 23 from Ingram stated that, according to media reports, the international observers were monitoring Texas elections. Specifically, Ingram wrote, "A two-person observation team is currently in Texas sent by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to observe state election processes." He also added, however, "Any characterization of this team as election monitors is false. Further, the OSC monitors (have been) informed that they will not be granted a monitoring or inspection status from the Texas Secretary of State's Office."
Apparently, the current effort is part of a long-standing exchange program between members of the OSCE, including the United States, to observe each other's election processes and learn from one another.
In an Oct. 23 letter to Ambassador Daan Everts at the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in Warsaw, Poland, Attorney General Abbott was equally as blunt.
"In April, you reportedly met with a group of organizations that have filed lawsuits challenging election integrity laws enacted by the Texas Legislature," Abbott wrote. "A letter from Project Vote and other organizations urged OSCE to monitor states that have taken steps to protect ballot integrity by enacting Voter ID laws."
Abbott continued, "The OSCE may be entitled to its opinions about Voter ID laws, but your opinion is legally irrelevant in the United States, where the Supreme Court has already determined that Voter ID laws are constitutional."
Citing the Texas Election Code that governs participants in Texas elections - including OSCE representatives - Abbott noted, "The OSCE's representative are not authorized by Texas law to enter a polling place. It may be a criminal offense for OSCE's representatives to maintain a presence within 100 feet of a polling place's entrance. Failure to comply with these requirements could subject the OSCE's representatives to criminal prosecution for violating state law."
Additionally, Ingram had verbally informed OSCE representatives Leathers and Jensen that Chapter 61 of the Texas Election Code prohibited them from entering actual polling places, and, according to Ingram, "they understood this limitation."
For her part, Perez-Wright invited the duo into her office and asked, "Why are you here?" She noted, "They told me their organization had two representatives in each state and that yesterday they had been in Bexar County watching the processing of mail-in ballots, which I kind of doubted."
Before leaving the annex, Leathers and Jensen said they were going to the Medina Annex. "I told them, 'No, you're not,' and I thought they understood."
Instead, they wended their way to the GOP Headquarters where they spoke with Republican Party Chairman Ed Hodges.
His 10- to 15-minute encounter with Leathers and Jensen was singularly insignificant. "They asked me if I had been aware of any voter fraud in the county and I said, 'No'," Hodges said. He added, "I told them elections in this county were very well done with the involvement of both political parties. There are no shenanigans." The OSCE representatives also visited the Democrat Headquarters.
Echoing both Abbott and Ingram regarding the sanctity of Texas polling places, Perez-Wright said, "(The representatives) were very nice, but I don't care who you are. Even my mother isn't going to be allowed to hang around a polling place when voting is going on. I think they chose Bandera because they thought we were a small town and might not realize what was going on, but they were wrong."
Poll watchers for candidates, political parties and political action groups must have certification to monitor polling places for a limited time, she said. "Even inspectors from the State of Texas have something in hand, but these people had nothing."
Perez-Wright continued, "I've sent memos to all precinct judges and poll workers as well as to the sheriff and marshal's offices. If they come back, we'll be ready for them."