Archive | Electoral Fraud

“This Winter Will Be Hot”*

In the wake of mounting evidence of widespread fraud in Sunday’s elections for Russia’s Duma, protest movements calling for an annulment of the election’s results have begun to gather steam. Despite the arrest of nearly 800 demonstrators in Moscow and St. Petersburg this week, plans have now been drawn up for protests this Saturday (10 December) in at least 80 cities across Russia. While the search has now been joined among observers for a suitable moniker—”Russian Spring” (which makes little sense) and “Russian Winter” (even less sense) appear to be frontrunners—it is still far too early to determine what effect, if any, these protests will have—or even if people will show up.

Three immediate issues loom over this nascent movement (or, more accurately, movements):

(1) What effect, if any, will the arrest of leaders and “first movers”—many of whom received 15-day jail sentences—have on the subsequent ability to mobilize participants?

(2) Can these groups rely on Twitter, LiveJournal, and other social media to organize, or do they need grassroots efforts and more traditional means to reach older would-be participants? Pictures from these early protests reveal just how young these activists are. Yet most (older) Russians rely on state-run television for their news, media outlets that have steadfastly refused to air any coverage of these protests or Saturday’s planned activities.

(3) How will the state respond? The regime clearly believes in the appearance, if not (yet) the use of force, to deter protests or interrupt them if they occur. Yet the wild card here may be the counter-protests tacitly sanctioned (and in some cases, actively aided) by the state. These include pro-Kremlin youth groups and nationalist movements, both of which have already held “patriotic” rallies to denounce protestors. Whether protesters will be willing to run these twin gauntlets in sufficient numbers remains to be seen. Whether OMON and other police forces will actually resort to large-scale violence is also an open question.

Events will move quickly this weekend. Here are some useful Twitter feeds and LiveJournal pages that have been covering these events closely.

In English, see @siberianlight, @MiriamElder, and Radio Free Europe. In Russian, see @4irikova, @navalny, @b_nemtsov (all 3 are key leaders of the protest movement) and Marina Litvinovich (@abstract2001), a Moscow-based human rights activist. This is clearly just a start, so if you know of other useful sources, let others know by leaving a comment below. For background of protests in post-Soviet Russia, see Graeme Robertson’s excellent (and timely) The Politics of Protest in Hybrid Regimes: Managing Dissent in Post-Communist Russia (here).

  • Slogan on a sign carried at Monday’s protest rally in Moscow
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Digital Cameras Reduce Electoral Corruption

Elections in developing countries commonly fail to deliver accountability because of manipulation, often involving collusion between corrupt election offcials and political candidates. We report the results of an experimental evaluation of Quick Count Photo Capture—a monitoring technology designed to detect the illegal sale of votes by corrupt election offcials to candidates—carried out in 471 polling centers across Afghanistan during the 2010 parliamentary elections. The intervention reduced vote counts by 25% for the candidate most likely to be buying votes and reduced the stealing of election materials by about 60%.

From a new paper by Michael Callen and James Long.  Find it here.  A write-up in Slate is here.  This did not stop candidates from finding other ways to cheat, of course.  From Slate:

Of course, with one avenue of electoral fraud shut down, candidates determined to circumvent the democratic process turned to other forms of cheating. Indeed, complaints of voting irregularities, such as candidates claiming that their supporters’ votes were somehow unrecorded or invalidated, were higher at polling stations where station managers knew they’d get camera audits.

Politicians can also adapt in other ways:

Before we get too excited about smartphones as the savior of democracy, it’s worth remembering that corrupt candidates were able to deploy alternative tactics even on very short notice, in the hours after the monitors delivered their warning letters. If something like Callen and Long’s procedure became the norm, powerful candidates might simply persuade the government to prevent the photographing of results, or to stop posting them at all. In fact, at the end of the day, democracy advocates may worry that photo audits may simply shift power from small-time candidates to big-time ones that are best able to find alternative forms of vote manipulation. We’ll find out when electronic monitoring makes its next appearance at Afghan polling stations.

Still, very interesting.  For more on other experimental studies of electoral fraud, see this post.

[Hat tip to Luke Condra and Rebecca Musarra]

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What Passes for Election Results in Russia These Days…


The y-axis on this graph is turnout by district in Russia’s October 11th local elections; the x-axis is the vote for the ruling United Russia party. Note how once turnout passes 30%, the proportion of votes for United Russia begins to increase in almost a linear fashion.

[Hat tip to Russian blogger Kireev, who posted the figure, via The Power Vertical. I can not personally vouch for the veracity of the numbers in the figure, as I have not seen the official results myself. So consider this post merely the passing along of information available elsewhere on the web, and take it with the appropriate caveats.]

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Lessons from Iran: Ballot Stuffing, “Destuffing”, and Thoughts on Boycotts

Mark this down as a prediction: when scholars start writing articles about the recent Iranian presidential elections, this will be the quote they use to begin their articles:

“Statistics provided by the candidates, who claim more than 100 percent of those eligible have cast their ballot in 80 to 170 cities are not accurate — the incident has happened in only 50 cities.” – Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, spokesman for the Guardian Council, as quoted in the NY Times

With the NY Times now reporting that the number of votes affected by regions where the Guardian Council admits that greater than 100% of voters cast ballots could number as many as 3 million (out of a total of 40 million total votes) from 50 cities, it is clear that this was not an isolated incident. So it seems legitimate to begin asking how this could have possibly happened.

To me, the most likely explanation would seem to be an either literal or virtual form of “ballot stuffing”, e.g., Ahmadinejad’s votes being inflated without any of the other candidates having their votes deflated. Hence, if enough stuffing occurred, the totals could eventually begin to surpass the number of eligible voters. In a literal sense, it is easy to understand why one might “stuff” but not “destuff”. Adding extra ballots is easy: you just get hold of extra blank ballots, fill in your candidate, and put them in the ballot box. “Destuffing”, on the other hand, involves getting hold of ballots that were already cast, filtering them to remove only votes for the opposition, and then getting the ballots for your candidate back into the ballot box. Not impossible, but clearly a lot more work than stuffing, especially when time is short.

But if, as my colleagues Bernd Beber and Alex Scacco have suggested (here and here), the ballot stuffing was more “virtual”, with totals just being adjusted at higher levels of aggregation, then the question remains: why would totals ever be adjusted beyond the number of votes counted? Is there something that keeps people who are fixing election results from wanting to adjust opponents’ results downwards as opposed to just revising their own candidate upwards? One explanation could be laziness: you are ordered to get your candidate a certain number of votes, and the easiest way to do that is just change his/her vote total. Another explanation could be fear of a paper trail: if you decrease votes at a reporting stage and the ballots actually exist, then perhaps there is more of a fear of getting caught? I’m interested in others’ thoughts on this matter, especially those who have worked specifically in the area of election monitoring and fraud detection.

All of this, however, bring me to the issue of election boycotts, which have have been used as an important tool of protest in cases where the question of whether elections will be free and fair is in doubt. If, however, it turns out that it is kind of an iron rule of election fraud that it is easier to revise vote totals up then down, then it seems that not boycotting an election serves another role besides allowing your candidate to accumulate votes: it also narrows the window in which the regime can inflate vote totals for its own candidates without getting “caught” by going over the number of actual votes count.

Put another way, one reason why we might now have 50(!)+ cities in Iran where the number of votes cast exceeds the total number of voters is precisely because Iranian citizens participated in the election in such record numbers. Had turnout been a bit lower, there would have been more margin for error in this regard, and perhaps less evidence of vote totals exceeding voters.

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More Evidence of Fraud in Iran: The Devil is in the Digits

From my new colleagues Bernd Beber and Alex Scacco:

In the past week, analysts have scoured the results from Iran’s presidential election, looking for evidence of fraud. In an op-ed in today’s Washington Post online, we offer a different take on the problem. The key idea in the piece is that people are poor randomizers: When humans try to fake numbers, they leave traces of their activity in the data. For instance, psychologists have found that people choose some digits more often than we would expect in a sequence of random numbers.
What distinguishes our approach from Walter Mebane’s note (discussed in a previous Monkey Cage post) is that we look at patterns of last digits in province-level vote returns. In a fair election, each number (0, 1, 2, etc.) should appear as often as any other in the last digit. But that’s not the case in the numbers from Iran: Among other things, wefind too many 7s and too few 5s. The deviations we find suggest there’s little chance the Iranian election results weren’t manipulated.

You can find the full op-ed here, as well as supplementary materials (including the annotated version of the op-ed and the data and code used in the analysis) here.

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Mebane on possible electoral fraud in Iran

Via Mark Blumenthal , this short research note by Walter Mebane at University of Michigan which finds possible evidence of fraud from district level voting patterns in Iran. His conclusions:

In general, combining the fi rst-stage 2005 and 2009 data conveys the impression that while natural political processes significantly contributed to the election outcome, outcomes in many towns were produced by very different processes. The natural processes in 2009 have Ahmadinejad tending to do best in towns where his support in 2005 was highest and tending to do worst in towns where turnout surged the most. But in more than half of the towns where comparisons to the first-stage 2005 results are feasible, Ahmadinejad’s vote counts are not at all or only poorly described by the naturalistic model. Much more often than not, these poorly modeled observations have vote counts for Ahmadinejad that are greater than the naturalistic model would imply. While it is not possible given only the current data to say for sure whether this reflects natural complexity in the political processes or arti ficial manipulations, the numerous outliers comport more with the idea that there was widespread fraud than with the idea that all the departures from the model are benign. Additional information of various kinds can help sort out the question. Remaining is the need to see data at lower levels of aggregation and in general more transparency about how the election was conducted.

Since my understanding of the the underlying statistical models here is at best scanty, I’ll limit my comments to saying that (a) Mebane is a political scientist with well-published previous work on related topics, and (b), that since the note is obviously composed using LaTeX, it must be right. Those better equipped to tackle these questions can find Mebane’s data here.

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Preventing Electoral Fraud

This natural experimental design has provided a unique test of whether international observers can deter election-day fraud, providing causal evidence of how international actors can influence domestic politics. The evidence presented above shows that the presence of international observers depressed the incumbent’s round 1 average vote share by 6 percent in polling stations that were observed. Since the incumbent was only 0.52 percent away from avoiding a round 2 runoff, international observers may have been responsible for triggering a second round of competition.

This is the conclusion of Susan Hyde’s study of the 2003 Armenian election (here, gated). She takes advantage of the fact that international observers were assigned to polling stations approximately randomly.

Paradoxically, however, the presence of international observers during an election seems to encourage opposition parties to boycott. See this paper (gated), by Hyde and Emily Beaulieu. They write:

…international benefits for democratic elections give electoral autocrats the incentive to invite international observers and manipulate elections to minimize international criticism. This increase in “strategic manipulation” has led to changed incentives for opposition political parties, which have the most to lose from a manipulated but internationally certified election. Consequently, international monitors increase boycott probability.

But why would incumbents risk condemnation by manipulating elections in front of international observers? In this paper, Hyde writes:

This article began with an empirical puzzle. Many leaders invite international election observers, cheat in front of them, and face negative consequences as a result. For pseudodemocrats, being caught cheating by international observers can lead to international condemnation, domestic uprising, and an overall reduction in the probability that they will maintain their hold on power. The existence of the norm of election observation explains this puzzle. Without the norm, held and enforced by the international community, the rate of observed elections should have begun decreasing by the end of the 1990s as observers grew better at catching election fraud and more likely to sanction fraudulent elections. Instead, the rate of observed elections continued to increase during this time period, even as the risks associated with inviting increased. All else held equal, one could argue that a number of leaders who invite international election observers would prefer a world without the norm of election observation.
In other issue areas within international relations, compliance with such costly norms has been explained as the result of pressure from activists or powerful states. Election observation, in contrast, was initiated by state leaders to signal a government’s commitment to democratization. As more international benefits were linked to democracy, leaders who were not necessarily committed democrats also had the incentive to invite observers. This repeated behavior resulted in acceptance of election observation as compatible with respect for state sovereignty. As a result of the normalization of election observation, international actors began to punish leaders who did not invite observers and invest in improving election observation technology, thus reinforcing the norm even as compliance with the norm became more costly for pseudodemocrats.

On international observers and, more broadly, how to make democracies “self-enforcing,” see this paper by James Fearon. On election fraud, see this volume, edited by Hyde, Michael Alvarez, and Thad Hall.

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Things to Watch in Iran: Tuesday Edition

Despite facing some significantly high hurdles, which I have written about here, supporters of opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi are continuing to take to the streets and apparently to exert real pressure on the Iranian regime. In a somewhat stunning development, the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has endorsed a partial recount of the vote, although Mousavi has apparently rejected the offer of a recount, instead demanding a revote. As developments proceed in the next few days, I would keep a close eye on the following:

1) Will the planned recount go ahead, and or will Mousavi succeed in forcing a revote? While the latter still seems very unlikely, it would be an extremely significant development, demonstrating that the position of Khamenei is much weaker than we thought only a few days ago.

2) Will the security forces in Iran move beyond what they are doing now – basically low levels of violence and apparently detaining opposition leaders – and unleash a more concentrated show of force (e.g., something in the spirit of what happened in Tiananmen Square or Andijan, Uzbekistan)?

3) Will the Iranian authorities take further steps to shut down technological means of communication being utilized by the opposition, such as text messaging and Twitter?

4) Can the opposition continue to deliver large numbers of people into the streets as the protests head towards a second week? One of the truly fascinating things about the Orange Revolution in Ukraine was the sheer number of days that people continued to protest, even in the dead of winter. It will be very informative to watch if the protests in Iran have similar staying power, although of course this likely to be in part a function of the previous two points.

All of these points are informed by my view of thinking about protests following electoral fraud in terms of the individual protester, trying to ask when protesters will believe it is in their interest to take to the streets and when they will not. I have written about this in great detail in Perspectives on Politics (ungated).

On a closely related topic, John Rood has responded to my query regarding Just What is Iran? by writing:

Thanks for your piece via The Monkey Cage on Iran as “competitive authoritarian” regime. I thought the analysis could go a step forward by subdividing into what I’ve called “strong” and “weak” competitive authoritarian regimes,. The distinction is that in a weak regime, the supreme authority is occasionally compelled to accept election results with which it disagrees in order to maintain their power. (A strong regime is sufficiently powerful that it can invalidate election results at its discretion.) You mentioned that Khatami’s election was one example; the situation on the ground now suggests that there is a similar inflection point re: reviewing last week’s results.

John has more on this topic in a blog post at The Public Philosopher.

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Lessons from the Orange Revolution Learned in Iran?

Drawing together the themes of protest, Twitter, and Iran that have dominated the Monkey Cage in the past few days, I published an Op-Ed piece today over on The New Republic online on lessons from the post-communist colored revolutions that may have been learned by the authorities in Iran. Not sure exactly what the blogging etiquette is on this sort of thing, but thought I would share the first two paragraphs here with readers of the Monkey Cage and then direct those of you that are interested to TNR to finish reading it:

As I watched events in Iran unfold at the end of last week, I couldn’t help but note the similarities to the “Colored Revolutions” that swept through the post-communist region in the middle of this decade. Pre-election polls predicted a surprisingly competitive election in an erstwhile authoritarian country. Following the election, both sides claimed victory amid allegations of serious electoral fraud. Supporters of the opposition candidate took to the streets, and even had a color—green—lined up to give them the moniker of the “green revolution.”
However, over the past three days, it has become apparent that Tehran is not turning into Kiev. While there are numerous important differences between Iran and the post-communist colored-revolution countries (Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, and possibly Kyrgyzstan)—with the most notable being that ultimate executive power in Iran lies with the Supreme Leader, currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is not popularly elected—it does seem to me that the Iranian authorities may have learned a number of specific lessons from their less fortunate post-communist counterparts.

Continue reading the rest of From Kiev to Tehran? at The New Republic.

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