US elections highly competitive, but voting rights not guaranteed for all groups, international observers say
The 6 November mid-term elections in the United States were highly competitive and contestants could campaign freely, with media presenting a wide array of information and views, enabling voters to make an informed choice. However, campaign rhetoric was often intensely negative and at times intolerant, including on social networks, the international observers from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) concluded in a statement released today.
The fundamental right to suffrage was undermined in places by the disenfranchisement of some groups and the lack of full representation in Congress. Campaign finance rules do not guarantee full transparency, the observers said. While the elections were largely administered in a professional manner and voters turned out in high numbers, decisions on important aspects of the electoral process were often politicized, the statement says.
“The American people once again demonstrated their commitment to democratic elections in a hard-fought and vibrant campaign that clearly engaged voters and had millions eagerly awaiting results last night,” said George Tsereteli, Special Co-ordinator and leader of the short-term OSCE observer mission. “While the rhetoric we heard from the campaign trail was often divisive, Americans came together to vote in professionally run elections.”
There was an overall respect for fundamental freedoms in a campaign that was dominated by the two main parties. The intolerant rhetoric included several statements with xenophobic and anti-Semitic connotations, the statement says. Concerns were raised regarding online disinformation from both domestic and foreign sources, as well as regarding the transparency of online advertising.
The legal framework and the administration of elections are complex and diverse. As there are few nationwide procedural standards, detailed rules are made only at the state and sub-state level. Some states have amended laws to facilitate voter registration, early voting and the voting rights of ex-prisoners, partially addressing prior ODIHR recommendations. However, fundamental deficiencies remain, particularly with respect to the disenfranchisement of citizens on various grounds, the observers said. Lack of agreement in Congress to update a key aspect of the 1965 Voting Rights Act diminishes its effectiveness in safeguarding against discrimination on racial or linguistic grounds.
Voter registration is active and implemented by states, with minimum conditions set by federal law. A number of states enhanced efforts to facilitate voter registration, including online and automatic registration, but an estimated 50 million eligible citizens were not registered for these elections, for various reasons. Legislation and established practices effectively disenfranchised around 11 million otherwise eligible voters, the statement says. Voter identification is a politically divisive issue, and rules in some states can present obstacles, particularly for low-income voters, racial and linguistic minorities, and Native Americans.