WASHINGTON — Election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe warned this week of “intensely divisive” rhetoric ahead of the midterm elections in the United States, noting that Republicans who have denied the 2020 election results are running for offices that directly oversee future contests.
In a 16-page interim report released on Wednesday, the organization highlighted a number of concerns for the midterms, including threats of violence against election officials, widely circulated election misinformation, and potential voter suppression and voter intimidation. The group, an international security organization whose members include the United States, routinely monitors the elections of its member states at their invitation.
The report noted that “a number of Republican candidates in key races” who could be in charge of overseeing future elections have “challenged or refused to accept the legitimacy of the 2020 results.” Attempts by candidates to discredit the integrity of the vote have “snowballed enormously” since the 2020 election, Tana de Zulueta, the head of the organization’s election observation mission for the U.S. midterms, said in an interview.
The report offered further evidence of international concern about the state of democracy in the United States in the wake of President Donald J. Trump’s time in office and his attempts to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election.
Despite the concern, the World Justice Project, an organization that tracks the rule of law internationally, said on Wednesday that the situation in the United States had actually improved slightly in 2022 after several years of decline. In newly released rankings, the group placed the United States at No. 26 out of 140 countries and jurisdictions.
The State of the 2022 Midterm Elections
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.
“The U.S. is not out of the woods by a long stretch,” Elizabeth Andersen, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement. “Authoritarian trends have weakened both trust and accountability, and our democracy is not as healthy as it should be.”
The report from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or O.S.C.E., made note of “intensely divisive and at times inflammatory rhetoric” in campaigns by Republicans and Democrats, including what it described as “allegations by some political leaders and candidates from both sides that their opponents were seeking to subvert democracy and were a threat to the United States.” As examples, the report pointed to remarks by Mr. Trump and President Biden about each other.
The report also said that election monitors had observed language at rallies and on social networks that “sought to delegitimize the other party, was potentially defamatory and in several instances invoked racist, xenophobic, transphobic and homophobic tropes.” At one rally, for example, an incumbent Republican lawmaker “made inflammatory xenophobic remarks,” according to the report, which did not identify the lawmaker.
Ms. de Zulueta said that the use of divisive language was not equal between the two parties and that reports by election observers about Democratic campaigns were “more low-key.”
The report said that both Republicans and Democrats “campaigned on platforms of ensuring electoral integrity” but went about it in very different ways. “Republicans emphasized the perceived need to prevent the casting and counting of illegal votes,” the report said, “while Democrats focused on preventing what they see as the potential for rejection of legitimate votes.”
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The report added that those campaign messages from the two parties had “contributed to a diminishing trust in a fundamentally robust electoral process.”
Ms. de Zulueta said the report was not meant to present the two parties’ election-related campaign messages as equally damaging, noting that it was Mr. Trump who transformed election denial into “a defining characteristic of his campaign” and of later Republican primaries. Instead, she added, the report sought to highlight that warnings by Democrats of potential election interference could also be damaging to the credibility of elections.
“You have to be careful,” Ms. de Zulueta said. “You can actually by challenging — in some ways you can actually feed into this.”
The O.S.C.E. has routinely monitored elections in the United States, but its efforts took on increased prominence when Mr. Trump refused to acknowledge that he lost the 2020 election. The election observation mission for that contest condemned Mr. Trump’s “baseless allegations” of fraud and expressed confidence that the vote was secure.
For this year’s election, the organization will have far fewer election monitors than had been planned. A report from the group in June recommended a full election observation mission of about 500 observers “given the highly polarized environment” and “diminishing trust in the integrity of elections” in the United States. But the size of the mission was reduced to 57 people because of a shortage of available observers.
Ms. de Zulueta said the downsizing would not significantly affect the mission’s work. A spokesman for the organization noted that its observation mission for the 2020 election had also been limited because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The mission for the midterms will present its preliminary findings on Nov. 9, the day after Election Day, and a final report will be released about two months later.
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