This article is part of our special report US Election Special 2020: What to watch and why it matters.
The head of an international observer mission to the US elections on Wednesday (4 November) criticised President Trump’s allegations of fraud in the election, and expressed concern over attempts by his campaign to stop vote counting, saying it “undermined public trust” in democracy.
The US presidential election is “tarnished by legal uncertainty and unprecedented attempts to undermine public trust,” according to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which monitors elections throughout Western nations and countries of the former Soviet Union.
While the election was “hard-fought and competitive,” with a high degree of engagement by election workers and citizens, “baseless allegations of systematic deficiencies, notably by the incumbent president, including on election night, harm public trust in democratic institutions,” said Michael Georg Link, head of the short-term OSCE election observer mission.
On election night, as votes were still being counted, US President Donald Trump told supporters that there had been “a major fraud in our nation” and vowed to contest the election results to the Supreme Court.
On Twitter, he claimed: “We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election.”
We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election. We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the Polls are closed!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 4, 2020
The mission, which usually monitors elections in places like Ukraine or Kazakhstan, said there was no evidence of election fraud in Tuesday’s vote.
Some 100 observers from the OSCE’s parliamentary assembly and office of democratic institutions and human rights (ODIHR) were deployed around the US to watch the 2020 election.
Eighteen US states routinely deny access to OSCE observers and the mission said they did not try to go to places where their presence went against local laws.
In their preliminary report, the mission warned that statements by Trump during the campaign “were perceived by many as increasing the potential for politically motivated violence after the elections.”
The OSCE has sent observers for every US presidential election since 2002, but it is so far unprecedented for an observer mission to heavily reprimand a US President for interfering in elections.
The mission also called for the counting of all votes after the Trump campaign said it had launched proceedings to stop the process in the crucial states of Michigan and Pennsylvania.
“Nobody – no politician, no elected official – should limit the people’s right to vote,” Link said.
“Coming after such a highly dynamic campaign, making sure that every vote is counted is a fundamental obligation for all branches of government,” he added.
Freedom House, a US government-funded non-profit that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights, was also critical of the conduct of the polls.
“The president’s premature claim that he won and that victory was being stolen from him creates baseless doubts about the legitimacy of the election,” said its president Michael Abramowitz.
“As the counting process and any adjudication of disputes continues, politicians, journalists, and other public figures should avoid using inflammatory language that may incite violence. We all need to wait for ballots to be counted and results to be confirmed,” he added.
Norwegian MP Kari Henriksen, who led the OSCE’s parliamentary assembly delegation, also told reporters she was “concerned about attempts to restrict the counting of legally cast ballots.”
“Election day itself was peaceful and took place without unrest or intimidation. Health safety measures were generally followed,” the OSCE noted.
“The enormous effort made by election workers, supported by many engaged citizens, ensured that voters could cast their votes despite legal and technical challenges and deliberate attempts by the incumbent president to weaken confidence in the election process,” said Urszula Gacek, who headed a delegation by the OSCE’s office for democratic institutions and human rights.
She also pointed to the fact that $400 million in federal emergency funding deployed to assist US states in the administration of the election had been insufficient to ensure a smooth process. In the end, a big part of that funding came from private sources such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who contributed $400 million.
“But when you look at the $14 billion which has been spent on the campaign, and you juxtapose that against an administration which has been having to rely on philanthropists to help them actually run the election, I think it’s interesting,” Gacek said.
(Edited by Frédéric Simon)