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Secretary of state: UN voting monitors face arrest in Iowa

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List of United Nations Election Observer Deployment
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Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) election observers attend a press conference on Georgia’s parliamentary polls in Tbilisi, on October 2, 2012. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili conceded today defeat in parliamentary polls that handed a shock victory to an opposition coalition led by billionaire tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili. OSCE election observers described the polls as an “important step in consolidating the conduct of democratic elections.” AFP PHOTO / VANO SHLAMOV (Photo credit VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/GettyImages)
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October 30, 2012 7:20 pm • By Mike Wiser

(GlobeGazette.com) DES MOINES — Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz warned a group of international voting monitors that they face arrest if they monitor polling locations in Iowa next week.

“My office met with two delegation representatives last week to discuss Iowa’s election process, and it was explained to them that they are not permitted at the polls,” Schultz said in a statement released Tuesday. “Iowa law is very specific about who is permitted at polling places, and there is no exception for members of this group.”

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe plans to send observers from its Office for Democratic Institutions to Iowa and other states. According to the group’s website, members have been meeting with election officials and political party workers since last month to discuss their observation plans in the United States.

Attempts to reach Thomas Rymer, spokesman for the Office of Democratic Institutions, were not successful Tuesday.

Schultz said he supports the efforts of other nations to learn about the U.S. election process, but pointed to a statute in Iowa code that limits the number of people at a particular polling place. That section of code, with few exceptions, allows poll watchers from political parties, news media and campaigns to be at polling locations.

Schultz spokesman Chad Olsen said the Secretary of State’s Office will leave it up to local county officials how to handle outside observers.

“But if they do show up at a polling location, because they are not allowed to do so under Iowa law, local elections officials can request that they be removed if they refuse to do so. That could be the poll workers at the site, or the county auditor or county attorney,” Olsen wrote in an email.

“They violate the statute just by showing up and maintaining a presence within 300 feet of a polling location. They are aware of the statute, and did indicate at the meeting last week that they had no intention of violating Iowa law, but then apparently were seeking permission from county auditors to do so anyway.”

Tim Albrecht, spokesman for Gov. Terry Branstad, said the governor agrees with the secretary of state.

“The governor believes Iowa Code should be followed, and supports Matt Schultz’s efforts to uphold the law,” Albrecht wrote in an email.

Mike Wiser reports from the Globe Gazette Des Moines Bureau.

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