Friday, January 27, 2012

Webcams in Russia

Russia is following Azerbaijan's lead by installing webcams in polling stations for the March 2012 election. Beginning in 2008, Azerbaijan installed webcams in approximately 10% of its polling stations. As I show in a 2010 Electoral Studies article (gated), the presence of webcams was associated with lower reported turnout but had a limited effect on pro-regime voting. In the article, I suggested that polling station officials may report turnout more honestly as webcams would reveal extensive padding of voter participation. However, other forms of fraud would not be revealed through webcam footage. The research supports the OSCE contention that  webcams complement, but do not substitute for, the in-person observation process.

Russia's plan, which would outfit almost all polling stations, would undermine careful observation of the footage. Azerbaijan's placement of webcams in some polling stations permitted me to assess the effects as a quasi experiment, with treatment and control groups. If Russia indeed covers most precincts, it will be difficult to watch all of the footage ("crowdsourced" observation, where many volunteers monitor the footage, may be necessary). Moreover, by "treating" most polling stations, it will not be possible to assess if the presence or absence of webcams affects the process or outcomes.

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