Campaigns and elections

2012 Georgian Parliamentary Election: Fraud Forensics and Map of Opposition Support

Oct 3 '12

This following is a guest-post from Fredrik M Sjoberg, a Postdoctoral Scholar at Columbia University.


The country of Georgia experienced something unique last Monday. The incumbent President conceded defeat in the parliamentary elections. This is the first time ever anywhere in South Caucasus or Central Asia that this happens. Georgia showed that it clearly wants to distance itself from its post-Soviet neighbours where election fraud is widespread. How different were these elections in terms of precinct level dynamics?

Now that the Central Election Commission (CEC) has published the precinct level electoral returns we can use fraud forensics to look for irregularities. Note that it took the CEC relatively long to publish the data, after first claiming that its website was under a Denial-of-service attack (see article). The data used here is based on a download from the official results as of 6pm (EDT) Tuesday October 2, when 92 percent of the precinct level results were in.

First, examining indications of outright fabrication we note a suspicious deviation from the expected uniform distribution. 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 (Beber & Scacco, 2012). The deviation from uniform is significant at the 5 percent level.

This is not to say that the results were fabricated, but it does call for more research. Note that none of the major election observation organizations, domestic or international, reported widespread vote-count fraud.

Second, a kernel density plot can also be used as an indication of fraud (Hyde, 2007). 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 no ‘unnatural’ humps at the right-hand tail as we would expect if there was ballot stuffing, or other blatant forms of fraud, that would benefit one party (or increase turnout).

Finally, let me just illustrate how the support of the opposition is distributed spatially. Georgian Dream, the party led by the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, performed very well and especially so in the proportional component of the mixed electoral system. A map of the support indicates that support was spread out over the whole territory.

No doubt there will be a lot more interesting analyses coming out in the next few days. In the meantime, for a field experiment examining election fraud in the preceding Georgian parliamentary elections in 2008, see the paper Making Voters Count: Evidence from Field Experiments about the Efficacy of Domestic Election Observation.