The Protesters Are Right: Evidence Suggests More Election Fraud in Last Week’s Elections in Armenia

This is a guest-post from Fredrik M Sjoberg, a Postdoctoral Scholar at Columbia University – The Harriman Institute.


Since last week’s presidential elections (February 18) in Armenia there have been protests around the country alleging widespread election fraud. The presidential campaign was certainly eventful, with one candidate going on a hunger strike and another being shot (non-fatally). The officially reported electoral returns came as a surprise to many. The American-born Raffi Hovannisian from the oppositional Heritage Party, got 37 percent of the votes. Considering that in last year’s parliamentary elections the party got only 3.8 percent of the seats, this can be considered quite a feat. Many questions arise, one of which concerns the extent of election fraud in the 2013 elections compared with last year’s parliamentary elections. I find that there are indications of more fraud in last week’s elections.

First, examining indications of outright fabrication I note a suspicious deviation from the expected uniform distribution in the vote counts for the ruling party in 2013. There is no such pattern in the 2012 data, supporting the hypothesis that there was more fraud in 2013. In the absence of manipulation of vote totals the last digit should follow a uniform distribution of 10 percent in each of the 0-9 digit categories – the vertical bars in the graph (Beber & Scacco, 2012). The deviation from uniform is significant at the 0.1 percent level in the 2013 elections, while non-significant in 2012 (p-value = 0.981)

There is anecdotal evidence of fraud from domestic election observers, like the crowdsourcing platform There are only four incidents of calculation errors or falsification, constituting 1 percent of the 390 incident reports that were categorized. Actually, the most frequently occurring types of incidents reported where either intimidation (11 percent) or vote buying (10 percent). Fraud forensics based on digit-tests would not be able to capture such phenomena.

For the latter type of electoral manipulation we can graph turnout as a kernel density plot to detect anomalies. A Kernel plot is a non-parametric estimation of the probability density function of a random variable. Such a smoothing of the distribution helps us spot irregularities compared with the expected normal distribution. Examining the plots visually reveal an ‘unnatural’ hump at the right-hand tail as we would expect if there was ballot stuffing, or other blatant forms of fraud that would increase turnout. The hump is certainly more articulated in 2013 compared to 2012, again suggesting that there was more fraud in 2013.

In a context where authorities claim that there was no fraud and the opposition alleges widespread fraud, such forensics tools can be helpful as a piece of evidence. These are only diagnostic tools though and should be interpreted with caution. Other organizations have put out similar analyses, for instance Policy Forum Armenia (PFA). It remains to be seen whether the citizens of Armenia overcome the well-known collective-action problem of whether or not to protest. Who knows, the spring might come early to Armenia this year?

6 Responses to The Protesters Are Right: Evidence Suggests More Election Fraud in Last Week’s Elections in Armenia

  1. RobG March 1, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    “Such a smoothing of the distribution helps us spot irregularities compared with the expected normal distribution.”
    I think this has been commented on before, but I’m not sure there’s any reason to suspect a normal distribution in turnout results. Although Armenia might happen to have a distribution that approximately normal, there’s all sorts of reasons we might see non-normal turnout distributions in any given country. That said, I think the graph above still manages to present the better approach: comparing turnout of potentially fradulent elections to prior elections that had no evidence of fraud.

  2. JP March 1, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

    The important lessons of voter fraud.

    1) Always use a random number generator to alter the ballot counts. (alternatively you could go the extra mile and actually ‘stuff’ the ballot with handfuls of favorable votes)

    2) Randomly select the voting locations where you plan on working.

    When I’m a corrupt world leader I’ll do it right!

  3. Fredrik M Sjoberg March 1, 2013 at 4:23 pm #


    You’re right in principle. I’m glad you like the comparison between years though. In the Armenian context where there were allegations of turnout-enhancing fraud, like vote buying and multiple voting, the anomalies in the 2013 turnout distribution certainly looks suspicious.


    Randomizing is great, but it does require some serious planning and training of Precinct Electoral Commission members, given that the votes are counted at the precinct level. Having spent the whole night (and mornings) in polling stations during the count in several countries I highly doubt that they would know how to use a random number generator. Remember that we are talking about decentralized fraud here, it’s not like the returns are being falsified by the Central Electoral Commission.

    Re: ballot stuffing, yes, certainly this is a good idea in theory, especially if there’s a threat of a recount. However, ballot stuffing makes for bad optics in an era of ever-present mobile phones that can record videos of it. Capturing vote-count fraud on camera is much harder. Quite a dilemma for the poor autocrat!

  4. Dro March 2, 2013 at 6:29 am #

    The systematic use of ballot stuffing, double/triple voting, use of fake passports and keeping the voter names secret has allowed the ruling party to maintain its monopoly in Armenia through rigged elections. Although Armenia’s horrible economy has caused mass emigration specially in the villages, the voter turnout in the villages was generally higher than 80% and often near 100% (elections observers were absent in most villages). One look at the below analysis of the recent election results posted on will reveal to any novice that the election was systematically rigged as it is impossible for a candidate to lose where voter turnout is under 60%, yet received 3 times more votes in precincts where voter turnout was above 60%.

    By filtering voting station with normal attendance rate (60%
    Raffi K. Hovhannisyan 191,194 votes
    Serj Sargsyan 536,194 votes

    see here how an election observer was pinned up against the wall while thugs stuffed ballots note this happened in the same city where the head campaign manager of the ruling president is from.

  5. Dro March 2, 2013 at 6:30 am #

    here is the analysis, it was printed wrong above:

    By filtering voting station with normal attendance rate (60%
    Raffi K. Hovhannisyan 191,194 votes
    Serj Sargsyan 536,194 votes

  6. Asatur March 4, 2013 at 10:34 am #

    Dear All,

    With all respects to numbers and especially % everything is clear.
    The results are the product of art, just see the real data:
    nothing should be added here.