Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 29, 2012

Texas warns U.N. election observers to obey local laws


Associated Press

— Oct. 26 was the anniversary of the most famous showdown in Western history. On that day in 1881, two groups of armed men faced off near the OK Corral in Tombstone, Ariz., to settle a long brewing dispute.

Every American knows the story’s broad outline. Wyatt, Morgan and Virgil Earp, backed up by notorious gunman Doc Holliday, marched to the corral ostensibly to enforce Tombstone’s ordinance against carrying firearms in the city limits. Ike and Billy Clanton, along with Frank and Tom McClaury waited, armed — in violation of that ordinance.

Whether the lawmen opened fire on men attempting to surrender or opened fire in self-defense, we’ll never know. We do know the McClaury brothers and Billy Clanton died in a hail of lead.

Morgan and Virgil were wounded as was Holliday. We also know the gunfight would not have occurred if the Clantons and McClaurys hadn’t come armed into Tombstone that morning. They had, after all, been warned.

I’ve been thinking about this famous gunfight because, on Nov. 6, 2012, we may be witnessing another showdown of a different sort. On one side of the corral is the Office of Democratic Institutions (ODI HR), a branch of the U.N. affiliated Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

On the other side is the great state of Texas. As in the legendary 1881 shootout, tensions have been mounting for some time and, like the Clantons and McClaurys, the inspectors have been warned.

Here’s the background as I understand it. Texas passed a law requiring voters to present a valid ID in order to participate in Texas elections. Earlier this year, a federal judge blocked enforcement of that law. Evidently, some of the challengers to the Texas statute met in April with representatives of the United Nation's groups to voice concerns about the fairness of the upcoming election.

The inspectors have now given notice it intends to dispatch 57 observers from at least 10 countries to fan out across the United States to ensure the 2012 presidential election is fair. Some of these observers plan to look in on Texas — just to be sure there’s no funny stuff.

Though Texas has a well-deserved reputation for hospitality, they expect visitors to mind their manners. So, to be sure there’s no misunderstanding about behavior appropriate for U.N. observers, on Wednesday, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sent a letter to the outside inspectors' headquarters.

In that letter, he stated: “If OSCE members want to learn more about our election processes so they can improve their own democratic systems, we welcome the opportunity to discuss the measures Texas has implemented…” But he went on to warn, “… groups of individuals from outside the United States are not allowed to influence or interfere in the election process in Texas.”

Just before I sat down to write this column, the U.N.-affliated inspectors responded. Janez Lenarcic, director of ODI HR announced, “The threat of criminal sanctions against OSCE/ODI HR observers is unacceptable… The United States, like all countries in the OSCE, has an obligation to invite ODI HR observers to observe elections.” Evidently, Monsieur Lenarcic has shared his “grave concerns” about the threat of Texas prosecutions with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Clearly Attorney General Abbott is unimpressed. In an interview with a Reuters reporter, he states, “They act like they may not be subject to Texas law and our goal all along is to make clear to them when they’re in Texas, they’re subject to Texas law and we’re not giving them an exemption.”

So the stage is set. Texas makes it clear that the U.N. team is welcome to visit the state, but violation of Texas law will land somebody in jail. Fair warning. They apparently want to come to Texas unencumbered by the need to obey that law.

Looks to me like the solution is simple. I would have advised the Clantons and McClaurys not to ride into Tombstone armed. You really don’t want to get involved in a shoot out with Wyatt Earp, his brothers and Doc Holliday. I would advise the outside inspectors not to ride into Texas looking for a fight. My experience with Texas law enforcement is they don’t make idle threats.

Maybe it’s true our federal government has obligated the individual states to allow foreign observers to watch our elections. But you’ll never convince Texans that the federal government can grant absolution in advance for violations of Texas election laws.

The foreign inspectors have probably never heard this bit of Western wisdom. So I feel obliged to pass it along now. Saddle your hoss before you sass the boss.

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Mike Hinkle is a columnist for The Edmond (Okla.) Sun.