Carter Center to monitor US elections for the first time during midterms

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The democracy promotion organisation founded by former president Jimmy Carter will monitor US elections for the first time during this year’s midterms.

The Carter Center has monitored more than 110 elections in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and Asia since 1989 as part of democracy promotion efforts around the world. But it has never before carried out similar operations in the US.

This year, however, it will dispatch monitors in three states — Georgia, Michigan, and Arizona — each with a different mission, but with the overall aim of building confidence in the integrity of the voting process.

David Carroll, director of the centre’s Democracy Programme, told The Independent that the move “represents a recognition that the threats to democratic institutions and norms are greater in the United States than in a number of other countries around the world.”

“And it merits close attention and prioritisation by groups like ours that work to advance respect for democracy and democratic principles,” he added.

The unprecedented decision to observe elections in the US comes amid a crisis of confidence in the democratic process across the country. The Republican Party, nominally led by Donald Trump, is now dominated by candidates who promote baseless conspiracy theories about election fraud, including some who have threatened to only accept the results of elections they win. According to a recent poll, some 28 per cent of all voters, including 41 per cent of Republicans, said they had little to no faith in the accuracy of this year’s midterm elections.

Because US states each have their own election laws, the Carter Center’s monitoring activities will look different in each state. Arizona, for example, does not have a provision in law for nonpartisan election observers to be present at polling sites on election day. The centre’s activities there will involve observing the pre-testing of ballot counting machines, monitoring livestreams of ballot drop box activity and observing other parts of the process that are open to the public.

In Michigan, they will be partnering with two organisations that focus on disability rights and will be observing on election day on a limited scale. And in Georgia, the centre will be monitoring in Fulton County based on an agreement with the county and the Secretary of State’s office.

Mr Carroll said the Carter Center’s work in the midterms is different to its usual comprehensive country missions and was instead more a kind of “piloting of different kinds of activities in different states depending upon the context and what’s possible.”

In 2020, The Independent reported on the Carter Center’s first ever election initiative in the US — one that stopped short of the kind of monitoring activities it is known for worldwide. That effort involved awareness-raising and observing the post-election audit of ballots in Georgia. This year’s efforts represent a significantly increased engagement in the US election process, but with a similar goal of addressing a “lack of public confidence in the accuracy and administration of elections, Mr Carroll said.

“I’m under no illusions that what we do is necessarily going to, by itself, change the calculus on how our elections are understood, but I think do think that we can be part of a bigger picture, involving a range of different kinds of activities by many groups, to try to help people better understand what happens during elections,” Mr Carroll said.

The Carter Center is a non-profit organisation founded in 1982 by Jimmy Carter – who served as president from 1977 to 1981 – and his wife Rosalynn. Its website says it seeks “to prevent and resolve conflicts, enhance freedom and democracy, and improve health”. It works around the world to promote democracy by monitoring elections and educating on election integrity.

President Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development” – much of which was done through his work with the centre.

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