Post-Election Reflections on Call for United Nations Election Observers

Less than a week before the U.S. presidential election, a coalition of democracy activists called for United Nations elections observers to the United States election.

The number of signatories to our TrueVote.US and petition — 5,000 names collected in only a few days — is a sure sign that folks are distraught with our undemocratic system of voting.

Our call for United Nations (UN) election observers wasn’t a quixotic venture; it was a model action with lessons that are relevant for the next U.S. elections.

Along with eternal gratitude, I offer to this country’s hard-working voting rights champions some reflections on our experience.

1) We partnered with an amazing mix of experts:

a) Grace Ross, long-standing human rights activist, former Gubernatorial Candidate for Massachusetts, and 2004 petitioner for UN election observers (with Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom)

b) Kevin Zeese, Executive Director of www.TrueVote.US

c) Ben Manski, coordinator of and Director of Liberty Tree

d) Medea Benjamin, co-founder Global

2. We learned the nuts and bolts of how to call for UN election observers. Grace taught us all that an effective pathway into requesting UN international election observers in this country is to cite international human rights violations of people not able to vote or to have their vote counted. Furthermore, we learned that the only means citizens can present a case in relation to human rights violations is in partnership with a non-governmental organization (NGO) with consultative status to the UN: hence the kind offer of Global Exchange to fulfill that role. Inside the UN, ECOSOC addresses human rights violations, and we delivered our petition and press statement to a careful selection of ECOSOC member nations

3. We constructed the beginnings of a useful international media strategy that we invite others to use and adapt. Our press release, our petition summary and our petition delivery YouTubes were available in three languages — English, French and Spanish — and were all cross referenced on the two partner websites. I am convinced that with lead time (such as ten months), and with meetings with relevant UN officials, a domestic and international media blitz would be successful

4. In our initial research, we discovered that symbolic steps towards universal suffrage have taken place in the last three years in our country, both at the United Nations headquarters in New York and the Carter Center in Atlanta. So, it’s high time to demand that international democracy leaders practice what they preach, here on U.S. soil. Read on, and try not to weep at the irony:

a) On September 15, 2008 (less than two months ago), the Carter Center held its first ever ‘Annual International Day of Democracy.’

b) On October 27, 2005, the UN, and endorsing organizations, commemorated a ‘Declaration of Principles of International Election Observation.’

The United Nations hasn’t the authority, or ‘teeth,’ progressive activists in the U.S. believe it ought to have in relation to U.S. government actions. But given the global stretch of crises we face, and the urgency of the issues, U.S. citizen activists ought to look increasingly to the United Nations for support, leadership, and for help in pressuring the United States government. It is hard to predict, for instance, the positive influence U.S. NGO’s might have if partnerships with the United Nations were strengthened on the pressing issue of voting rights in the U.S.

As concerned voters around the country unravel all that went wrong in this last election, perhaps they’ll determine that democracy-restoring voting rights work must be done at the state level. Or they might collectively pressure Congress or the Executive Branch anew.

Still, to our friends around the country, we offer lessons learned from our United Nations action for the next round of elections, which, after all, is two short years away.

Diane Wittner is an artist, teacher, and director of Chesapeake Citizens. Read other articles by Diane, or visit Diane's website.