There's no demonstrated in-person voter fraud problem in Pennsylvania (or anywhere else, for that matter), and it's not clear if Trump's fraud-prevention effort is simply an attempt to collect voter contact information and boost GOP voter enthusiasm, or if it's actually meant to combat a problem that doesn't exist. But it's not surprising that this is a part of Trump's campaign in one sense: When Trump's campaign director Paul Manafort was helping to coordinate the campaign effort of a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine in 2006, he used similar tools and rhetoric.
In 2004, Ukraine held a presidential election that actually was riddled with fraud and abuse. This was the election in which one of the presidential candidates, Viktor Yushchenko, was poisoned with dioxin. The culprits remain undetermined, but Yushchenko's opposition to the influence of Vladimir Putin and Russia during his campaign has prompted some finger-pointing at the Kremlin. Monitoring of the election by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe found a number of problems focused on the campaign of Viktor Yanukovych, who represented the Party of Regions and was friendlier to Moscow.
A 2004 article at Slate details the allegations against Yanukovych, including stuffing ballot boxes and use of police to intimidate Yushchenko supporters. The rampant fraud led to a series of protests dubbed the Orange Revolution -- and a second ballot, which Yushchenko won.
At some point over the next two years, Yanukovych hired an American consultant to help the Party of Regions in the parliamentary elections. A cable released by Wikileaks noted the addition to Yanukovych's team.
Enjoying a lead in the polls since the fall 2005 Orange team split, ex-PM Yanukovych's Party of Regions is working to change its image from that of a haven for mobsters into that of a legitimate political party. Tapping the deep pockets of Donetsk clan godfather Rinat Akhmetov, Regions has hired veteran K street political help for its "extreme makeover" effort. According to the Internet news site Glavred.info, Davis, Manafort & Freedman is among the political consultants that have been hired to do the nipping and tucking.
Davis, Manafort & Freedman was, as you'd expect, Paul Manafort's firm.
Cables released by Wikileaks detail Manafort's arguments on behalf of the Party of Regions. Before the March 2006 elections, Manafort and aides spoke with representatives of the American consulate in the country. (The cables below come from the leak of diplomatic cables by Chelsea Manning.)
In one meeting, Manafort warned of the threat of election rigging and how it could undermine the legitimacy of the results.
"Manafort added that the people who felt that the 2004 elections had been stolen from them -- rightly or wrongly, that was how they felt -- would feel that it was happening to them again," one cable reads. That this was coming from someone representing the party considered responsible for the 2004 mess wasn't lost on the cable-writer. "In apparent anticipation of our next statement, Manafort offered that he was not in Ukraine in 2004 and could not make a judgment of what had happened. What was past was past; he was concerned about the present."
In the same cable, one of Manafort's employees describes an effort being undertaken by the party. "Catherine Barnes, Project Manager for the 'Ukraine Election Integrity Project,' a Manafort sub-project to train Regions' poll watchers in the standards of the code of conduct adopted by the Party for the 2006 election cycle, briefly mentioned her efforts, which have trained over 1200 Regions' members," it reads. A separate cable describes the goal of the group as being to "prevent or detect fraud on election day."
Manafort's depiction of where the problems lie wasn't uncontested. "Our Ukraine's Anton Klymenko held a press conference March 10 alleging that Regions, not Our Ukraine, was involved in voter list manipulation in eastern Ukraine," the first cable reads, "and that the new' voter lists for some precincts in Donetsk which had stripped off many 'dead souls' on the 2004 rolls had been replaced by the voter lists used in 2004, when fraud in the East was prevalent."
One of the tools Manafort hoped to implement to bolster the Party of Regions' chances was same-day voter registration. "[Manafort] called on the Ambassador March 21 to express his continuing concern about the possible disenfranchisement of 'hundreds of thousands' of Ukrainian voters unless President Yushchenko signed into law an amendment to the election law that would authorize local courts to add voters, names to the lists on election day," a cable reads. Why was Manafort confident that the Party of Regions would win if fraud weren't present?
"Manafort said his polling indicated that 70% of Ukrainians wanted change," the cable states. What's more, Yushchenko was no longer seen as trustworthy. "Manafort said he had two concerns for election day: fraud by Our Ukraine and the poor state of the voter lists," the cable reads.
Party of Regions won a majority of seats in parliament that March, returning Yanukovych to his position as the country's prime minister. The election was observed by OSCE, which didn't see the sort of widespread problems as two years prior.
In 2010, Yanukovych ran for president against Yulia Tymoshenko, who replaced him as prime minister following parliamentary elections in 2007. Again in that election, allegations of vote-rigging and fraud were rampant and flew in both directions. A Wikileaks cable describes Tymoshenko's arguments.
Tymoshenko, trailing Party of Regions leader Yanukovych in advance of the January 17 Presidential election, used a three-hour press event January 14 to hammer the message that Yanukovych is a criminal and front man for rapacious oligarchic interests, whose election would be a humiliation for Ukraine. She called Yanukovych a coward for refusing to debate her.
The cable notes Yanukovych's response.
Yanukovych termed Tymoshenko a "champion liar" and said he would not participate in a media circus with her. He expressed concern that Tymoshenko would not accept defeat and would seek to use the courts to hold as many rounds of elections as it takes for her to get elected. Manafort told us that Tymoshenko knows she is losing and is now moving to discredit the election process as the only means of stopping Yanukovych.
The OCSE found that the 2010 election also saw fewer problems that the 2004 race, perhaps because, as the cable above notes, "Russian influence has been muted."
Yanukovych won, but not without some dispute. Tymoshenko's campaign alleged that "the second round of the presidential election in Ukraine was marked by falsifications that significantly affected the election result and threw the result of the vote into question," the Kyiv Post reported. A Tymoshenko campaign representative said that "despite fierce opposition by Viktor Yanukovych's representatives, Yulia Tymoshenko's representatives managed to seek the first recount of votes at the 20th election district of the fifth constituency in Kerch" and that "data submitted to the Central Election Commission from this district gave Yanukovych 8 percent more votes than he in fact received."
Ukraine's next parliamentary elections, in 2012, were found to be problematic by the OCSE.
Two years after that, Yanukovych was ousted from his position, and his presidential palace overrun. Manafort's relationship with Yanukovych appears to have lasted until that point.
How much Manafort and his team earned for their work for Yanukovych and the Party of Regions isn't clear. A report from the New York Times on Monday morning indicated that Manafort's name appeared repeatedly on a list of secret recipients of cash payments by the party, perhaps to the tune of $12.7 million. "Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system," the Times reported, "whose recipients also included election officials."
There's no question that in Ukraine in 2006, there was cause to be concerned about election-rigging by the party in power -- Yanukovych's. The insistence by Trump and Manafort that similar risks apply in the United States in 2016 may be politically useful, but there's no way in which the argument can be made fairly -- as Manafort probably knows.