The focus here is on indications of fraud that can be detected by statistical inference: ballot stuffing and vote stealing (i.e., artificial augmentation of vote counts). The methodology used in this report was originally developed by Sobianin and Sukhovolskiy (1993) and Sobianin, Gelman, and Kaiunov, (1994) in application to Russia’s 1993 constitutional referendum and later developed in a series of published papers by Michael Myagkov (University of Oregon), Peter Ordeshook (California Institute of Technology), as well as in the context of Armenia’s 2008 presidential election by Policy Forum Armenia (see PFA, 2008). Below we focus on four measures that have been identified in the ensuing empirical literature as potential indicators of election fraud: (1) distribution of voter turnout (2) distribution of individual parties’ votes, (3) relationship between the parties’ votes and voter turnout, and (4) distribution of invalid ballots.
More specifically, the analysis above suggests the following likely strategy for fraudulent activities during the election:
- Voter turnout was artificially inflated in some polling stations presumably to reach a particular target for voter participation;
- In polling stations where the true turnout was too low, ballots were stuffed in favor of both the establishment party and, to a lesser extent, another friendly party, to avoid generating implausibly high percentages for the establishment party;
- In polling stations where true turnout was relatively high thus requiring less ballot stuffing, the dominant mode of fraud was vote stealing—augmenting the final vote count in favor of the main establishment party.
The outcome of May 31 demonstrates that election results in Armenia do not follow any established patterns, at least not similar to those in democratic countries. A recent study published in the Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics (Leigh, 2009), using data from 268 democratic elections held between 1978 and 1999, stresses the importance of both “luck” (economic conditions world-wide), and “competence” (ability of the incumbents to deliver better growth than that in the rest of the world) in election outcomes. The paper also shows that voters are more likely to reward competence in countries that have higher average income and education levels.
According to the official results of the May 31 election, however, this does not appear to be the case in Armenia. The ruling party candidate was declared a winner in 2009 despite: (1) a global crisis of epic proportions, (2) a domestic economic recession that far outpaces the declining global output trends, and (3) an ongoing internal political crisis with still unresolved events of March 1-2, 2008. Could it be that—consistent with Leigh (2009), if only in reverse—falling income and educational standards in Armenia make the rest of the world’s regress irrelevant and reward incompetence of local politicians? Unlikely, we would say, and would instead point to the direction of the integrity of the election process/data and the inability of the opposition to put its act together and show a plausible way out.
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The outcome of the May 31, 2009 municipal election in Yerevan did not produce any surprises. This was a result of a process that has been long in the making, perhaps since 1996. A small minority—the country’s top political leadership and oligarchs—has grown disproportionately wealthy and increasingly less aware of the aspirations of the majority of country’s citizens. As a result, elections have become largely irrelevant and should perhaps be reevaluated by the disenfranchised majority as a means of participating in the governance of the country. Sadly, Armenia’s patchy economic performance of recent years—so highly praised by international financial institutions—may have contributed to this outcome by making this small minority powerful enough to prevent any meaningful reform. It remains to be seen whether Armenia’s opposition—itself not a stranger to questionable election conduct and otherwise unable to innovate—could break this vicious cycle and prevent the country’s slide down this kakistocratic path. The alternative, we are afraid, will have irreversible consequences going forward.
Leigh, A. (2009). “Does the World Economy Swing National Elections?” Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford 71(2), pp.163-81.
Myagkov, M., P. C. Ordeshook, and D. Shakin (2005). “Fraud or Fairytales: Russia and Ukraine’s Electoral Experience,” Post-Soviet Affairs 21, No. 2.
Ordeshook, P. and M. Myagkov (2008). “Russian Elections: An Oxymoron of Democracy,” CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project Working Paper No. 63.
Policy Forum Armenia, 2008. “Armenia’s 2008 Presidential Election: Select Issues and Analysis,” PFA Special Report, available from www.pf-armenia.org.
Sobianin, A. and V. Sukhovolskiy (1993). “Elections and the Referendum December 12, 1993 in Russia: Political Results, Perspectives and Trustworthiness of the Results,” unpublished report to the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation, Moscow, 1993; as reported in Myagkov, Ordeshook, and Shakin (2005).
Sobianin, A., E. Gelman, and O. Kaiunov (1994). “The Political Climate of Russia’s Regions: Voters and Deputies, 1991-93,” The Post-Soviet Review 21, No. 1.