Tuesday, February 19, 2013

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.

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