2014-US-EOM-Isabel Santos

2014-EOM-US-Poll VisitTop: Isabel Santos (MP, Portugal), the head of the OSCE PA observation mission, examines sample ballots at a Washington polling station on 4 Nov.
Bottom: OSCE PA observers from 18 countries visit a polling station in Maryland.

WASHINGTON, 5 November 2014 – The 2014 United States midterm elections were another demonstration of the country's commitment to democracy, as voters could readily inform themselves about their political options and could freely cast their ballots, observers from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) concluded. However, the increasing role of money in political campaigns threatened to overshadow the real issues at stake in the elections. While the elections benefitted from extensive media coverage, with diverse and critical analysis of many aspects of the campaigns, the actual interest of the public appeared limited.

"This country has once again demonstrated that its commitment to democracy is undiminished," said Isabel Santos, leader of the OSCE PA observers. "However, the amount of money involved in campaigns has become truly staggering. With certain individuals and groups now spending millions on elections – amounts wildly beyond the capacity of average citizens – there is increasing inequality in the process."

The OSCE PA deployed a limited election observation mission to the United States of America following an invitation by the United States Government. The invitation to observe was in line with OSCE commitments. The mission, headed by Isabel Santos (MP, Portugal), included parliamentarians from 18 OSCE countries.

The two main parties' campaigns were widely covered in the media, although interlocutors noted that much of the focus was on campaign funding and polling data rather than substantive policy issues.

"The campaign was active and competitive, but often with negative advertising and mutual accusations lowering the quality of debate and turning voters off. Discussion of the real policy challenges facing the country suffered as a result," said Santos.

The ability of independent special interest groups to produce and air campaign-style advertisements without disclosing their sources of funding limited the ability of voters to judge the information that they were presented with. This lack of transparency undermined the ability of legally mandated bodies to provide accountability. Further, the purely legalistic interpretation of what constitutes co-ordination between campaigns and political action committees undermined the legal framework intended to bring transparency to campaign spending.

The legal framework governing elections in the United States is highly decentralized, with much of the key legislation at the state level. While the laws are well understood and the elections are professionally administered, the decentralized system results in varied access for both contestants and voters to the electoral system. A number of high-profile judicial rulings as well as legislative changes in recent years have significantly impacted the framework governing elections, including in the politically sensitive fields of campaign finance, redistricting and identification requirements. The observers welcomed increasing efforts to facilitate voting through early balloting and mail-in voting. They expressed concern regarding requirements in some states that voters present photo identification in cases where the authorities do not freely and readily provide such identification.

"Governments have a responsibility to facilitate voting for their population, and I hope that efforts will continue to make access as simple as possible for all American citizens. The requirement in some states that voters must first acquire photo identification can potentially inhibit voting by some, particularly those at lower socio-economic levels," said Santos.

Voting rights of felons and ex-felons are determined by state law and the content of these laws varies broadly. The United States, as all OSCE countries, has committed itself to guaranteeing universal and equal suffrage to all adult citizens. The lack of voting rights for felons, including permanent disenfranchisement in some states, is at odds with this commitment, as is the lack of a voting representative in Congress for citizens in the District of Columbia.

In the limited number of areas observed, the elections were well administered, with voters confident in the voting systems overall.

For the post-election statement in PDF,  please click here .

The limited election observation mission of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly included parliamentarians from Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Russian Federation, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Following briefings in Washington, D.C., on election day the observers visited a limited number of polling stations in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. The observers thank the authorities and people for their hospitality and co-operation.

For further information, please contact: Director of Elections Andreas Baker, Tel: +45 60108126 or Director of Communications Richard Solash, Tel: +45 60108380, richard@oscepa.dk.