In This Review

Meddling in the Ballot Box: The Causes and Effects of Partisan Electoral Interventions
Meddling in the Ballot Box: The Causes and Effects of Partisan Electoral Interventions
By Dov H. Levin
Oxford University Press, 2020, 316 pp

Levin presents an important paradox: foreign electoral interference has been extraordinarily frequent in recent history, and yet political scientists largely ignore the phenomenon. His study, the first major work focused solely on outside meddling in elections in the modern era, rests on extensive case studies and statistical analysis of an original database of 117 such interventions carried out by the Soviet Union (and, later, Russia) and the United States since World War II—81 of them by the United States. This data set alone is an important contribution and a sobering eye opener for Americans, since 70 percent of these interventions were undertaken by the United States. All told, those 117 instances account for one in every nine competitive national elections held in independent countries in that period. Levin finds that such interventions tend to occur in highly competitive elections in which the foreign intervenor sees its interests severely endangered by the candidate it opposes. Crucially, they are “inside jobs,” in the sense that success requires an actor in the target country who is willing to receive outside help. Russia’s intervention in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was only “unprecedented,” as Americans generally describe it, in its use of digital technology. Otherwise, it appears to fit the model in all respects. The book is a valuable foundation for the further study of a phenomenon that, especially when supercharged by cybertechnology, could threaten the future of electoral democracy.