Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Citizen Monitoring in Armenia

In an earlier post, I lamented the lack of citizen monitoring in Armenia's presidential election. However, I found iDitord's site posting field reports of alleged violations. The site is only in Armenian. Two more sites of interest:

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Quick Analysis of Armenia CEC Data #armvote13

Raffi Hovhannisyan and his supporters have rallied in Yerevan, claiming that he is the duly elected president. OSCE observers issued a report that both praised and challenged the process, noting that observers found evidence of "[u]ndue interference in the process, mainly by proxies representing the incumbent, and some cases of serious violations, including intimidation of a number of polling stations."

The data suggest that some anomalies are present. Using the CEC data for polling stations, I assessed the first and second digit distributions based on expectations from Benford's Law. This approach, in principle, can reveal anomalies in data that may be due to some form of manipulation. But, it is critical to note that scholars who evaluate data in this manner (such as forensic accountants) have cautioned about the over-interpretation of a single test.

The figure and tables below show the results of first- and second-digit evaluations on 1,988 polling station results for Serzh Sargsyan. Apologies for the ocular "tests," but some of the functions on my macros are not working at the moment. Second digits largely conform with expectations, but first-digit distributions suggest that anomalies may have been present. Note, for example, that the distribution of 1s is substantially lower than expected while 3s, 4s, and 5s are higher. 

Table 1: Serzh Sargsyan
1st DigitCountActualBenford's LawDiffSignif

2nd Digit
ActualBenford's Law

The Hovhannisyan data also evidence some anomalies, notably lower than expected 1s, 6s, 7s, 8s, and 9s, and higher than expected 3s, 4s, and 5s in the first digits.

Table 2: Raffi Hovhannisyan
1st DigitCountActualBenford's LawDiffSignif

2nd Digit
ActualBenford's Law

Ballot invalidation and turnout data provide interesting information as well. No ballots were invalidated in 125 polling stations, and in 57 polling stations the invalidation rates were above 10%.* Low levels of invalidation (especially cases where no ballots are invalidated) are unusual and could be consistent with ballot box stuffing, alteration of protocols or other actions. High levels of invalidation, especially with a simple ballot like the one Armenian voters encountered, may also be consistent with manipulation.

The figure below plots the proportion of vote received (y axis) by turnout (x axis) using polling station data. At higher levels of turnout,** Sargsyan's performance (in red) is better relative to Hovhannisyan (in blue). This type of outcome has been interpreted in other countries as suggestive of manipulation.

What the data tell us:
  • Based on first-digit tests, polling station results reveal anomalies in the distribution of data.
  • Around 6% of polling stations reported no invalid ballots. Except in small (or special) polling stations, it is unusual for voters to make no errors on their ballots.
  • Higher levels of turnout produced, in general, better outcomes for the incumbent president.
While the data suggest that more scrutiny of the electoral process is warranted, they do not "prove" that fraud occurred. A deeper assessment is necessary to rule out alternate explanations (e.g., better mobilization for Sargsyan in certain regions, etc.). In addition, even if fraud occurred, the data we have at the moment cannot "prove" that the outcome would have been different if no manipulation were present. 

* These higher levels of invalidation were not only located in polling stations with few registered voters.
** Calculated using columns 10 ("total number of electors") and 11 ("the number of participants of voting") in the CEC data.

A Few Notes on Armenia's Presidential Election

Armenia's election featured many hallmarks of Eurasian presidential elections, most notably limited opposition and a pre-determined outcome. Challengers with the best chance of making the election interesting declined to contest.* While the campaign period featured some drama, notably the withdrawal of one candidate and the shooting of another, the main questions on election eve were turnout (apparently 60.05%) and the magnitude of President Serzh Sargsyan's re-election victory (preliminary results indicate that he received 58.64%).

The administration of the election has presented a few interesting footnotes, however.
  • The CEC published a list of 243 individuals, stationed at diplomatic missions, who could vote electronically. Similar to the approach used elsewhere, only the final vote counts. This accommodation, in principle, addresses the concern about the potential for improper influences over voters who are not casting ballots in polling stations. If someone were to be present and demand that a voter cast his or her ballot in a particular way, the voter could comply and subsequently re-submit a new ballot later. Other expats were not similarly accommodated, however, creating controversy.
  • The CEC also regularly updated a spreadsheet with polling-station level results. Many CECs in the region eventually make available data at this level of aggregation, but few make the data so readily accessible (no scraping or recoding necessary).
  • Unlike recent elections in Georgia, Russia, and Ukraine, local civil society organizations did not seem to be involved in citizen-monitoring activities. While the data from citizen-observers can be problematic because information is not systematically collected,** their activities serve as an additional oversight layer and mobilization tool. 
* To be fair, Hovhannisyan's 36.75% is a solid second-place finish given the circumstances.
** These data can be subject to bias because polling sites are not randomly selected, reports are likely to over-sample urban districts, and so on. In addition, sites can be hacked or subjected to directed denial-of-services attacks undermining data acquisition on election day. Despite these problems, citizen-observation shows promise.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

More on Legislative Behavior and Accountability

A few updates on deputy requests and accountability in Ukraine.
  • My article with Nazar Boyko about the use of deputy requests is now available online at Party Politics (gated).
  • Nazar's organization, Cifra Group, continues to monitor deputy requests and has an online database of requests issued by MPs organized by party affiliation.
  • The opposition continues its campaign against кнопкодавство, blocking the dais in the Rada. Several alternatives have been proposed to enforce personal voting (see, for example, the article at Institutional solutions for enforcement are likely to be effective only if they are coupled with technological methods to ensure personal voting or provide evidence that the rules have been violated (such as biometric registration for recording votes). Non-technical approaches (UDAR has proposed voting by hand) may also work, but require additional oversight.