When Michael Link gets on a plane to Washington this Friday, he will be on a delicate mission. The Bundestag FDP member leads the US international election observation, which is organized by the OSCE. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe regularly checks that votes in its member countries are free, fair and in accordance with international standards.
The experts have already been deployed eight times in the US. They also participate in federal elections. But in a country where President Donald Trump himself speaks of alleged electoral fraud, questioning its legality, long before voting day, independent oversight is of particular importance.
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For the past few weeks, 40 long-term observers have been on the road in 31 US states on behalf of the OSCE. “We are where it matters and where we can see problems,” said Link. The experts mainly looked at voting by post, early voting and the vote in and in the polling stations. In particular, Trump had expressed doubts about the legal process of the postal vote. 60 MPs from 25 countries will arrive for Election Day on November 3, including Link and seven other members of the Bundestag.
However, they are far from being able to accompany the mood everywhere. Link criticizes the fact that 18 US states are not allowed to be seen on election day. OSCE observers had already criticized the restrictions in parts of the country as a result of different voting rights in 2016. Link was already playing a leading role at that time.
Bundestag FDP member Michael Link leads OSCE election observation in the US. Photo: Kay Nietfeld / dpa
Hardly any other German has as much experience in election observation as the former Foreign Minister. For three years, he headed the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which is responsible for election observation. Link has guided more than 100 voices in this role, plus several dozen other assignments. In quite a few countries, Link has discovered that the election was decided before the vote. The assessment of international experts is especially important in countries that ignore democratic norms. Some rulers fear their diplomatic but clear words. The OSCE was not invited in time for the presidential elections in Belarus.
Link emphasizes that the observation takes place according to the same principle in all countries. “We are not an electoral police, we are not an arbitral tribunal,” said the US head of mission. “We declare an election invalid or invalid.” The task is to observe and then report with an international mandate, independently and with a methodology recognized in all OSCE states.
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Link repeatedly stresses the importance of neutrality to the work of the mission. “The election observation tool can only be strong if we stay out of it politically.” He and his team are therefore not allowed to judge Trump’s statements.
A first interim report by the long-term observers, which has already been published, is therefore based on the interlocutors’ assessments of critical points. The election campaign in the US is taking place in an atmosphere characterized by a “high degree of polarization and division”. Many interlocutors had expressed serious concern that the legitimacy of the elections could be called into question because the incumbent party had repeatedly discussed electoral fraud, especially in the case of postal ballots.
The report also points out that Trump repeatedly refused to guarantee a peaceful transfer of power in the event of defeat. The observers were therefore told in their talks that there was “potential for political violence” after the election. In addition, it is feared that voters will be intimidated in the polling station.
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The use of ‘administrative resources’ during the election campaign was also included in the interim report: some interviewees criticized the fact that controls to offset the burden of the corona pandemic were sent to voters along with a letter signed by Trump. .
Link sees the US elections as a challenge because of the corona pandemic and not because of the political polarization. “We can deal with highly competitive, controversial elections as long as we adhere to political neutrality.” When Link presents the results of the mission the day after the Washington elections, the world’s attention will turn more than usual to the observers.