Carter Center team explains in-depth what it means to observe an election
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma–Members of a team assembled by the Carter Centers Democracy Program arrived in Okmulgee last week prepared to observe the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s second try at a 2019 Primary election, a race that included open seats for the Office of Principal Chief, Second Chief and National Council seats.
The observation of the tribe’s election was requested by MCN Election Board Chair and MCN Principal Chief James Floyd through a letter issued on Oct. 23.
The request asked that the Carter Center help with not only the Nov. 2 primary but also the General Election set to take place Dec. 14.
The team that arrived in Okmulgee consisted of three people with diverse backgrounds and expertise in election processes.
Brett Lacy, who works for the Carter Center took the time to explain the teams involvement and the Carter Center.
According to Lacy, the Carter Center, founded by former US President Jimmy Carter and his wife has vast experience in election process observation in their democracy program.
“In our Democracy Program, our primary activity has been what we call International election observation missions around the world,” Lacy said. “We’ve done about 110 in the history of the Carter Center.”
“Our role is to provide support to electoral processes.”
Lacy explained that in the beginning that meant the Carter Center was observing elections in places that might be coming out of conflict, countries that were coming out of civil war or other difficulties.
“But we have advocated from the beginning that it’s important that every election should have observation,” Lacy said. “Our role is to provide some transparency to the process…to help lend some credibility to the process where it is warranted and to help the people have a credible source of information about what is or isn’t happening during their election.”
Lacy said that Carter Center is a non-profit organization.
“We are funded in a range of ways,” Lacy said. “By private contributions, bi-lateral agreements, we get grants like many non- profits.”
She explained that observation of the MCN election was funded by institutional funds at the Carter Center.
According to Lacy the first part of the strategy for the Carter Center is to recruit the election observers internationally.
“Our headquarters is in the United States but we are an international organization and we recruit our observers globally,” Lacy said. “Observers come from Africa, Latin America, Asia to try to have truly diverse teams.”
She said each observer is trained on a particular election process before being deployed out to observe that election.
Lacy said the most comprehensive level of involvement the Carter Center offers is long term observation which involves coming out much earlier in the process.
“By the time you get to the election date it’s too late, there’s so much about an election that happens far in advance,” Lacy said.
She said in the perfect scenario the Carter Center would like to have observers on scene for candidates nomination periods, voter registration activity and training of poll workers.
“We can’t look backwards, but we will be able to comment on the early voting procedures, polling and counting procedures, some of the procedures around absentee ballots for this election as well as the broader legal framework for the election,” Lacy said.
The observation team was able read through the election code and the MCN Constitution.
The Carter Center bases it’s involvement in an election on many factors but part of the qualifications are that there is a determined need to lend credibility to the process, that the center’s involvement is welcome by the government and all candidates, and that there is a possibility that the Carter Center can have a positive impact.
Lacy said that the observation teams day would start early.
“We start early. We are at the polling places before they open,” Lacy said. “Part of the purpose is to see if polling procedures are being implemented, if they are being implemented in a standard way, we observe the opening, and the process throughout the day, then we observe the closing processes and any transfer of sensitive material like ballots.”
The Carter Centers can even offer election reform advice.
“Sometimes we are invited back to offer advice on an election reform process or to offer advice between elections to update electoral procedure or even strengthening practices within an election commission,” Lacy said.
According to Lacy the goal for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s election is to observe the process they have access to and then formulate a report based on their observations.
Lacy said that report would be made to the public.
“All of our reports are meant to be public,” Lacy said. “We often like to make a comment to the media and a more comprehensive report is usually available within a couple of months.”
Another component of the Carter Center’s Democracy Program is that they do have an election best practice guide.
She said that this election will be the fourth sovereign tribal election observed by the Carter Center.