On Dec. 19, the Electoral College electors are scheduled to meet in their respective states to cast their votes for president and vice president of the United States. This vote will come amidst the most serious challenge to the legitimacy of the democratic process in U.S. history, including evidence of the unprecedented impact of foreign intervention and influence.
To preserve the foundations of the American political system and strengthen the president-elect’s legitimacy, the electoral college should delay voting until the dual White House and Senate reports on Russian involvement in the election are issued.
According to reports, the consensus view within the CIA is that Russia has blatantly interfered with the U.S. presidential election. Not just to destabilize the electoral system, but to pick the winner.
Trump’s victory in the three states that gave him the win in the Electoral College amount to a bare nine-one hundredths of 1 percent of the votes cast. The precision needed to target this critical pressure point in order for Trump to win renders the possibility that a foreign, authoritarian state had a direct hand in creating that margin entirely possible.
We know, absent blinders to the evidence, that Putin actively drove votes with sophisticated fake news operations. While we don’t know with full certainty that there was direct manipulation of the balloting process through hacks on voting machines, at least one respected expert says we should investigate anyway.
The risk that a sustained Russian campaign against the U.S. electoral system will install an illegitimate president is now more than a trivial possibility, even as it remains highly unlikely. The mere fact of this much foreign interference coupled with the razor-thin margin of victory call for a level of unprecedented due diligence before the election is certified.
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If the White House and Senate reports are inconclusive, the College should install Trump. But inaugurating an illegitimate president before due process could unravel the very fabric of American democracy.
A protest of electors delaying the vote would send a clear message to the world, and to Moscow, that the American system is strong enough to resist the kind of aggression that authoritarian states use to control and topple other states. It would be a resounding rebuke to Vladimir Putin and enemies of democracy, not Donald TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger welcomes baby boy Tennessee lawmaker presents self-defense bill in 'honor' of Kyle Rittenhouse Five things to know about the New York AG's pursuit of Trump MORE or the Republican Party.
President-elect Trump should want this too. Not taking the necessary measures to clearly establish the type, extent, and effect of Russia’s criminal interference will mean that his administration will lack domestic and international legitimacy, while carrying the stink of Putin’s presence and manipulation. It is clear that nothing will damage the U.S.’s credibility more than if Trump is elected by the electoral college and, afterwards, the election results are proven manipulated. Then what?
His refusal to do so and willingness to attack the intelligence community that will serve him only reaffirm the numerous other red flags that have appeared over the course of the election.
Remember, as former CIA director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, charged, after Trump called on Putin to attack his opponent:
“Trump today once again took Russia's side. He asked the Russians to interfere in American politics. Think about that.”
Trump says he has “zero” investments in Russia, but the real question is how much have they invested in him over the years?
Perhaps the biggest of these is whose money pulled the Trump organization out of bankruptcy in the 1990s. Trump’s business was resurrected with what his son has admitted was a high percentage of Russian money.
It’s the piling up of these sorts of questions surrounding Russian influence that demand this extra level of attention by electors. In light of the overwhelming evidence and unanswered questions, American leaders must do all they can to safeguard the legitimacy of the election. America’s democracy, economy, and foreign policy all rest on the confidence citizens have that their president was their choice.
The legitimacy of the election is already tainted. Putin accomplished that. A delay will claw back some legitimacy and confidence in government, and relay commitment and dedication to our democratic processes, a message that will not fall on deaf ears in fellow democracies like Germany that also fear being targeted by Putin in upcoming elections.
Electors must pause and not rush to cement the outcome of a historically close and now indisputably suspect election in order to be certain that the choice for president of the United States, the world’s leading democracy, economy, and military, is actually America’s choice.
Yes, this is an extraordinary step, but so is the evidence.
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin should not get to decide who America elects for president. Only the American people should have the power to do that.
Matthew Schmidt is an expert on Russian foreign policy and a former Boren National Security Fellow studying and working in Russia in the late 1990s. He is currently an assistant professor of National Security and Political Science at the University of New Haven.
The views expressed by Contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.