Throughout the entire 2016 presidential election season, the 500 pound
gorilla bear in the room has been Vladimir Putin. He has stroked Trump’s ego, leading the GOP candidate to cozy up to him in return. Recent Wikileaks releases designed to embarrass the Clinton campaign are believed to have a Russian connection. The same with last summer’s leak of Democratic National Committee emails. And Trump has encouraged Russian hackers to do even more digging.
In the wake of what appears to be extensive meddling in the election by Putin’s operatives comes a report of a curious request: Russia has asked to place election observers at polling places in at least three states.
According to Oklahoma Secretary of State Chris Benge, in August his office received a letter from the Russian consulate general in Houston, asking if Russian observers could be present in polling places, to study “US experience in organization of voting process.” Benge said the request violates state law, which only permits election officials and voters to be present during voting.
Along with Oklahoma, officials in Louisiana and Texas say they have denied requests from Russia for election observers in their states. If Russia wants to help Trump get elected, as many believe, why did the Russians pick those states? None fit the description of “toss-up” states. While Texas has been moving from bright red to pink, Trump is likely to win there. Louisiana and Oklahoma are still solidly in Trump’s column.
So again, if Putin’s aim is to help Trump by backing up his claim that the election will be “rigged,” why would Russia seek to place observers in places where Trump is certain to win, likely by comfortable margins? Some experts think that aiding Trump and hurting Hillary isn’t what Putin and his minions are up to at all.
A CBC report says that Russian interest in the U.S. election may have nothing to do with which candidate they would prefer to win. Rather, some experts believe the intent is to weaken the image of America around the world.
Speaking specifically about the Wikileaks releases, Yale University professor Thomas Graham told the CBC,
“The goal of these leaks is not primarily to help Donald Trump. It’s to sow doubts about the electoral process in the United States; to tarnish the reputation of the U.S. running smooth democratic processes.”
George Washington University professor Henry Hale, who lectures on Russian politics, thinks Putin wants to send a message to Russians who are calling for more democracy at home.
“The leaked emails can give Russia’s leaders concrete ‘evidence’ to point to when telling their own population that democratization is not going to solve their problems.”
Hale adds that Putin sees America as meddling in Russian domestic affairs, and he wants to show that Russia can play a similar game. And Graham thinks that the Russian leader may not really want Trump to win at all. He says that Putin likes predictability, which makes sense, given his background as a spy. And we know that one word you cannot use for Trump is “predictable.”
“Even if it’s not necessarily positive for Russia, the idea is at least they know who they’re dealing with. And there is some confidence they know who Clinton is, what she’d represent as a president, and beyond that, they know the people who they’d expect to be advising her. With Trump, you just don’t know how to read him.”
Whatever the Russians are up to, this report confirms what many believe — that Vladimir Putin is very interested in our election. And unfortunately, given U.S. meddling in multiple countries’ elections throughout history, we’re not exactly in a position to take the moral high ground in the matter. Now we know what election tampering feels like, and we don’t like it very much.
Featured image via Adam Berry/Getty Images