Category Archives: election fraud

Media exit polls, election analytics, and conspiracy theories

The integrity of elections is a primary concern in a democratic society. One of the most important developments in the study of elections in recent decades has been the rapid development of tools and methods for evaluation of elections, most specifically, what many call “election forensics.” I and a number of my colleagues have written extensively on election evaluation and forensics; I refer interested readers to the book that Lonna Atkeson, Thad Hall, and I wrote, Evaluating Elections, and to the book that I edited with Thad and Susan Hyde, Election Fraud.

One question that continues to arise concerns whether observed differences between election results and media exit polls is evidence of electoral manipulation or election fraud. These questions have been raised in a number of recent U.S. presidential elections, and have come up again in the recent presidential primary elections in the U.S. In a recent piece in the New York Times, Nate Cohn wrote about these claims, and why we should be cautious in the use of media exit polls to detect election fraud. Each of the points that Cohn makes is valid and important, so this is an article worth reading closely.

I’d add to Cohn’s arguments, and note that while media exit polls have clear weaknesses as the sole forensic tool for determining the integrity of an election, we have a wide variety of other tools and methods to use in situations where there are questions raised about an election.
As Lonna, Thad and I wrote in Evaluating Elections, a good post-election study of an election’s integrity should involve a variety of data sources and multiple methods: including surveys and polls, post-election audits, and forensic analysis of disaggregated election returns. Each analytic approach has it’s strengths and weaknesses (media exit polls included), so by approaching the study of election integrity using as many data sources and different methods as we can, we can best locate where we might want to launch further investigation of potential problems in an election.

I have no doubt that we will hear more about the use of exit polls to evaluate the integrity of the presidential election this fall. Keep in mind Cohn’s cautionary points about using exit polls for this purpose, and also keep in mind that there are many other ways to evaluate the integrity of an election that have been tested and used in past elections. Media exit polls aren’t a great forensic tool, as Cohn argues: the types of exit polls that the news media uses to make inferences about voting behavior are not designed to detect election fraud or manipulation. Rather, those interested in a detailed examination of an election’s integrity should instead use the full array of analytic forensic tools that have been developed and tested in the research literature.

Virtual Issue of Political Analysis: Election Fraud and Electoral Integrity

Political Analysis has just published a virtual issue on Election Fraud and Electoral Integrity, edited by Ines Levin and myself.

The virtual issue contains a number of papers published recently in Political Analysis, on the forensics of election fraud and on how to study electoral outcomes.

The virtual issue’s papers are freely available for a limited time, as is the the introduction that Ines and I wrote.

Survey on the Performance of American Elections Data Available

As part of my pre-Thanksgiving clean-up, I have finally gotten around to posting the data sets and documentation for three surveys my colleagues and I did in 2007 and 2008 to gauge the quality of American elections. The studies were funded by Pew, as part of their Make Voting Work Initiative, along with the late, great JEHT Foundation and AARP (for the Nov. ’08 study). The studies were conducted in November 2007 (gubernatorial races in KY, LA, and MS), February 2008 (15 Super Tuesday states), and November 2008 (all 50 states). Lots of questions about how well elections were run, from the perspective of voters, plus some questions about why non-voters didn’t vote.

The data are all on the MIT dSpace site: http://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/5523

One feature of these datasets is that we did parallel administrations using the Internet and telephone (random digit dialing), so people interested in how these two survey modes differ should find things of interest to them there.

Why Rig Elections? Because it Works.

The Economist has an article this week on why people rig elections.  The answer is, because it works really well.  As the summary report of the key findings notes:

  • Using dirty tactics during elections helps politicians that are already in office. If they use illegal practices to win elections, they can expect to be in office around 2.5 times longer than if they participated in fair elections;
  • Dirty elections are bad for economic growth by skewing politicians’ incentives towards pursuing bad policies rather than good ones;
  • Checks and balances are effective in reducing the incentives to cheat and implement bad policies.
  • International aid has no clear effect on the quality of elections, unless there are effective checks and balances.
  • Small, poor but resource-rich countries are more prone to dirty elections.

In short, as the Economist notes,

Incumbents running in clean elections average six and a bit years in office; in rigged votes, 16 years. “Well, duh,” says Duncan Green, head of research at Oxfam, a British charity. Fair enough, it is obvious—but ten extra years may be more than expected.

Strikingly, the authors contend that “dirty elections are bad for economic growth by skewing politicians’ incentives.” This is because, they find, good economic performance makes a huge difference to an incumbent’s chance of re-election whether the vote is free or rigged, adding about three years’ to his or her tenure. Although economic success wins rewards in both systems, in clean ones, it adds 40% to a president’s time, whereas in dirty ones, the rewards of growth are swamped by those of rigging, which more than doubles the time in power. So rigging makes the economy less important to a president’s future—a rejoinder to the Chinese claim that in developing countries “managed democracy” is better for growth than an electoral free-for-all.

Obviously, not all developing countries rig the polls. Big nations seem less likely to rig than small ones—perhaps because they have more competing interest groups, making it harder to fake credibility by staging a poll win. Large government revenues from raw-material taxes makes rigging more likely by increasing incentives to get your hands on all that money. A few things make rigging less likely: term limits, the independence of the courts, parliament or press. And aid makes almost no difference. Even if outsiders are keeping the entire country afloat, their influence is patchy. As Mr Karzai earlier showed.

The full report can be found here.

Long lines at early voting sites in Florida? A possible unintended consequence of voting equipment switch

The move from touch screen voting technology to printing paper ballots on demand could potentially lead to long lines of voters at early voting sites in Florida, according to a recent report researched and written by Conny McCormack, an elections consultant to the Pew Charitable Trusts and JEHT Foundation’s Make Voting Work initiative.

McCormack, who from 1995 until her retirement at the end of 2007 served as the chief elections official for Los Angeles County, CA, the largest election jurisdiction in the country with over four million registered voters, visited two large Florida counties, Hillsborough and Miami-Dade, during the early voting period in conjunction with their August 2008 statewide primary election.  Her objective was to observe how the transition from direct record electronic (DRE) touch screen voting technology to the newly instituted optical scan “ballot on demand” paper ballot printing technology would impact the early voting environment.

Ballot on demand, according to McCormack, is a complex system requiring several additional steps for voters to interact with both the equipment and the election clerks.   McCormack made direct comparisons to the voter processing time needed when utilizing a ballot on demand system to generate each voter’s ballot compared with the previous system.  She found that the new ballot printing system requires as much as 10 times longer to print the correct ballot for the voter than when processing voters using touch screen voting technology.

McCormack writes about the potential impact to the November 2008 election in Florida:

“The additional time needed to print up to four op scan ballots, coupled with the expectation that the volume of early voters will increase sevenfold or more compared with the August primary election, is a cause for concern that voters may encounter long waiting lines as a result of the equipment change.”

The full report is available at http://earlyvoting.net. McCormack can be reached at connymccormack@gmail.com

Governments and Companies Struggle With Data Security

There’s an interesting story in the Washington Post, “Companies Struggle to Keep Data Safe.” The lead paragraph in the story notes: “A staggering 94 percent of companies admit that they are powerless to prevent confidential data from leaving their company by e-mail, according to a new study from Mimecast.”

But it’s not just corporations that are having trouble with data security, especially data leaks through email:

“Most leaks occur via e-mail,” confirmed James Blake, Mimecast’s chief product strategist. “Two thirds of data leaks occur via e-mail.” He highlighted an Infowatch survey, which said that 95 percent of leaks are accidental. “I would go along with that figure,” he said. “From what I have seen most leaks are accidental.”

Yet e-mail leaks are nothing new. Back in May this year, the Conservative party accidentally e-mailed the voting intentions of 8,000 voters in the Crewe and Nantwhich by election, to a journalist at a local radio station. It was thought that the automated completion of an e-mail address was to blame for the mistake.

Government agencies — including election officials — might want to take a look at this article and some of the information it reports regarding data security issues.

The survey was conducted by Mimecast. Here’s the interesting content from the press release:

LONDON 29 July, 2008 – An independent survey commissioned by email management company Mimecast has revealed that an alarming 94% of companies are powerless to stop confidential information from leaving their organisation by email. The survey revealed that just 6% of all respondents were confident that anyone attempting to send confidential company information by email out of the organisation would be prevented from doing so.

The independent survey, conducted amongst a sample of 125 IT managers, revealed that 32% of companies would not even be aware that confidential information had been leaked so would be unable to take steps to minimise the damage or track down the source of the information. However, 62% would be able to retrospectively identify the email leak once the information had been sent, but confessed to being unable to prevent its disclosure.

According to Dr James Blake, security expert at Mimecast, “The picture revealed by this survey points to fundamental security issues with protecting not only a company’s own data but also customer data like patient records or credit card numbers.” He adds, “With the blurring of boundaries between company employees and external consultants, contractors, outsourcers and other third parties, it is now much more difficult to ensure the appropriate flow of information outside the organisation. Especially since the majority of employees are now knowledge workers with access to significant amounts of confidential data.”

According to Bob Tarzey, security analyst at Quo Circa, “These figures do not surprise me – on the whole employees are not sending stuff out maliciously, but through carelessness or lack of fore-thought. Education can help to some extent, but many employees are using communications tools all day, every day and mistakes will happen, so having checks in place makes sense. Affordability of available technology to tackle the problem is also a problem, as most businesses are unable to invest in the high end, on-premise Data Leak Prevention (DLP) products that large business can, so the availability of on-demand services like those offered by Mimecast to achieve the same end is welcome providing performance is not adversely affected.”

Mass House appears to have failed to take up EDR bill

The Boston Globe is reporting this morning that the Mass House did not take up the EDR bill that the Mass Senate had passed:

Major items that lawmakers neglected to take up included whether to allow residents to register to vote on election days, whether the state should ban trans fat oils in restaurants, and whether Massachusetts should join a movement to decide presidential elections using a national popular vote instead of the Electoral College.

Two additional reports of voter fraud

In addition to the reports of fraud that I wrote about in the past few days, there are two additional ones that I ran across this morning.

The first comes from New York, from a report in the Daily News:

An aide to former Queens Assemblyman Jimmy Meng was charged yesterday with rigging voter addresses during a primary battle in 2004.

Simon Ting, 42, who was registering voters for the Flushing Democrat, whited out the addresses of Asian-American voters who lived outside the district and replaced them with addresses inside the district, according to Queens prosecutors.

The fraud wasn’t hard to detect: dozens of legitimate addresses were replaced with one of two addresses – either Ting’s former home or a bookstore Meng owns in Flushing, prosecutors said.

The second comes from Virginia, as reported in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

A former Gate City mayor who used absentee ballots as if they were marked cards to deal himself a 2004 re-election victory will spend 196 days in jail.

Charles Dougherty, convicted of 29 felony counts of vote fraud in two separate trials last year, was also ordered by the court yesterday to pay $51,500 in fines.

The sentence, handed down in Scott County Circuit Court, brings to an end an election scandal that rocked the town of 2,300, upset the political order and exposed an election process that may have been corrupt for years. During one of Dougherty’s trials, one woman testified she had always been paid a bottle of liquor for her vote.

A panel of judges agreed the election results were suspicious, threw out the votes and appointed a new Town Council. The council then appointed Jenkins mayor, and a judge appointed Botetourt County Commonwealth’s Attorney Joel Branscom as special prosecutor.

Branscom charged Dougherty with more than three-dozen counts of election fraud. In two trials, jurors agreed with Branscom that Dougherty had duped voters, many of them elderly and residents of an assisted-living complex, into applying for absentee ballots even though they didn’t qualify for them.