If you’re worried about voter fraud, voter suppression, or hacking in the upcoming presidential election, fear not: The Russian government is committed to ensuring America holds a fair vote. It was revealed on Friday that Russia has offered to deploy poll monitors to several U.S. states on election day, ostensibly to make sure everything’s on the up and up when America votes. But officials in those states all refused Russia’s offer, and it’s not surprising why.
The Russian Consul General wrote in a letter to Oklahoma’s top election official:
While presenting our compliments, [we] hereby would like to kindly request assistance in allowing the officer of the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Houston to be present (for a short period of time, when convenient) at one of the ballot station of Oklahoma, with the goal of studying the US experience in organization of voting process during The United Stated States [sic] Presidential Elections on November 8th, 2016.
The secretaries of state in Texas and Louisiana received similar letters.
But Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana all rejected Russia’s offer, and it makes sense that they did. For one, the U.S. government has already accused Russia of trying to hack U.S. election databases, which makes the country’s offer seem a tad suspect. Moreover, international observers have concluded that Russia’s own elections aren’t all that democratic, so it’s unclear what expertise Russian officials would have to offer on that front. And in Texas and Oklahoma, such poll monitoring would in fact be a violation of state law, as officials pointed out.
It’s plainly obvious, and not even controversial to state, that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants Donald Trump to win in November. It makes sense: Trump is pro-Putin, and more importantly, he’s rather likely to destabilize the U.S. economy, which Trump would like to see happen. From this perspective, it’s tempting to conclude that Russia’s offer to send election monitors to the United States is an attempt to influence the results.
But that’s probably incorrect. If Russia truly wanted to use its poll monitors to affect the outcome of the election, it would probably offer to send them to Ohio, North Carolina, Nevada, or some other state where the polling is relatively close. But Oklahoma and Louisiana are already firmly in Trump’s column, and while the polling in Texas has been closer than usual this cycle, the state isn’t at all likely to play a decisive role in the final electoral count.
What’s more likely, then, is that Russia simply sent these letters as a public relations stunt for its domestic (that is, Russian) audience. Look at how state-run media in Russia reported the news: “United States Bars Russian Monitors From Presidential Polls,” the headline reads, with a Russian official claiming that America’s refusal to allow foreign observers at polling places is reflective of “Russophobic trends” and reminiscent of the Cold War.
In that light, these letters aren’t much to worry about. Putin is simply shoring up his domestic support by painting the United States as obstinate and anti-Russian, as he often does. It’s unlikely that anybody in Russia actually expected anyone to take these letters seriously — at least, not anyone in America.