If a Klondike gold trader put her thumb on the scale to benefit the prospector and not herself, you would think she was crazy, wouldn’t you? Why would anyone cheat to lose? Well, that’s what I’m wondering about with respect to our elections. Not only are our election scales being rigged, they might be rigged by our own people against us.
Right now, the American populace has got its collective knickers in a twist over the likelihood that the Russians interfered in the 2016 election. Some commentators are so wound up about this that it’s all they can talk or write about. This is totally appropriate and the outrage is warranted, particularly since the President and his team may have facilitated this. What isn’t always made clear, though, is that foreign interference in elections is commonplace. It happens all the time, everywhere.
In fact, the U.S. has proven to be especially good at interfering in the elections of other countries. They have attempted to influence presidential elections in other countries 81 times between 1946 and 2000, according to a database created by Dov Levin of Carnegie Mellon University. Additionally, Nina Agrawal of the LA Times has noted that here have been multiple military coups and regime changes following the election of candidates the U.S. didn’t like. Levin’s data shows that about 1 of every 9 national executive elections in the world have been affected by the influence of either the U.S. or Russia in that time period. Think about that for a moment. One out of nine, globally.
While being the most influential, Russia and the U.S. are not the only ones trying to affect the outcomes of elections. In May of 2017, the British Prime Minister Theresa May accused the European Union of trying to sway the outcome of the United Kingdom election. This inspired The Atlantic’s Matt Peterson to write an article which identifies this and three other nation’s votes which were being influenced by foreign powers.: France, South Korea, and Iran.
If we want to go further back in history, in 1940 the U.K. used covert intelligence, propaganda, fake news stories, and dirty tricks to elect candidates who favoured US intervention in the European war. Up until then, America had been neutral. Steve Usdin’s article in Politico Magazine explains how the British Security Commission “focused not on promoting candidates, but rather on defeating elected officials who opposed American intervention in the war.” Sound familiar?
Clearly, election-meddling is not new, and it is not limited to Russia or the United States. What makes the current debacle different is the bewildering possibility that some Americans and Brits may have colluded with Russians in election interference. In that case, having another state putting a thumb on the scale of our elections may be the least of our problems. Now we have to also wonder about our own thumbs being applied on behalf of our rivals. It boggles the mind.