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Stats Politics

Statistical Tools For Detecting Electoral Fraud 215

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the chechens-for-putin dept.
RockDoctor writes "A recent paper published in PNAS describes statistical techniques for clearly displaying the presence of two types of electoral fraud (PDF) — 'incremental fraud' (stuffing of ballot boxes containing genuine votes with ballots for the winning party) and 'extreme fraud' (reporting completely contrived numbers, typically 100% turnout for a vote-counting region, with 100% voting for the winning party). While the techniques would require skill with statistical software to apply in real time, the graphs produced in the paper provide tools for the interested non-statistician to monitor an election 'live.' Examples are discussed with both 'normal' elections, fraud by the techniques mentioned, and cases of genuine voter inhomogeneity. Other types of fraud, such as gerrymandering and inhibiting the registration of minority voters, are not considered."
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Statistical Tools For Detecting Electoral Fraud

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  • Well (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 01, 2012 @07:10PM (#41520081)

    We can't have that. Who do we call to get this outlawed?

  • Gerrymandering (Score:3, Insightful)

    by prakslash (681585) on Monday October 01, 2012 @07:17PM (#41520139)

    Gerrymandering is not exactly fraud. Intentionally drawing lines to create voting districts in a way such that it favors one political party over another is perfectly legal (although obviously not desired). Gerrymandering can be used for good too such as creating voting districts consisting of mostly Blacks or other minorities so they can elect a (favored minority) representative and have a say in the political process.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Gerrymandering can be used for good too such as creating voting districts consisting of mostly Blacks or other minorities so they can elect a (favored minority) representative and have a say in the political process.

      Why is this considered good? Do you believe that "Blacks and other minorities" can't succeed without help?

      If I'm not mistaken, Barack Obama is a "black or other minority" and he won in a country not "consisting of mostly Blacks or other minorities".

      • Re:Gerrymandering (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ceoyoyo (59147) on Monday October 01, 2012 @07:59PM (#41520493)

        If there is a minority (ethnic or otherwise) with interests differing from that of the majority, that minority may be underrepresented in representative systems. If the minority happens to be geographically localized, drawing electoral boundaries appropriately can restore them to a proportionate amount of political power.

        The OP possibly could have chosen his words better, but I don't think he meant any harm.

        • Re:Gerrymandering (Score:5, Insightful)

          by shutdown -p now (807394) on Monday October 01, 2012 @09:06PM (#41520955) Journal

          The problem with that argument is that it is not-so-subtly segregationist - let the minority have their own small ghetto where they run things, but keep them out of our (much bigger) turf where we do as we want. SAR had a similar arrangement with bantustans during apartheid.

          Thing is, if you have an ethnic minority with interests profoundly different from the majority, that's already the sign of a very fundamental flaw in that society, which is not going to be fixed by token gestures

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by bgat (123664)

            The problem with that argument is that it is not-so-subtly segregationist - let the minority have their own small ghetto where they run things, but keep them out of our (much bigger) turf where we do as we want. SAR had a similar arrangement with bantustans during apartheid.

            Thing is, if you have an ethnic minority with interests profoundly different from the majority, that's already the sign of a very fundamental flaw in that society, which is not going to be fixed by token gestures

            Actually, that isn't how it turns out at all: there is no "ghetto" established, as the laws that the prevailing governing body passes will apply to the entire incorporated area (city, county, state, whatever). The key difference is that without the gerrymandering, there will be no voice in that governing body to represent the extreme minority's interests at all. So it's actually anti-segregationist, since it gives the minority a stronger voice than they would have otherwise.

            Of course, that's if gerrymande

            • Re:Gerrymandering (Score:5, Insightful)

              by shutdown -p now (807394) on Monday October 01, 2012 @09:23PM (#41521101) Journal

              The minority should not need a voice to speak for them in the first place. They should be citizens just like any others, with same rights and needs as far as their interaction with the government goes. If they're not, that in itself is segregationalist - it's creating a division along ethnic (or other similarly decorative) lines where none should rationally exist. It only happens when either the government is deliberately discriminating against them (in which case a single representative is not going to do anything useful, and is little more than token gesture), or because that group of people is intentionally segregating themselves from the rest of society, excluding outsiders from their power structure - which is a bad thing and should not be encouraged.

            • by metacell (523607)

              Actually, that isn't how it turns out at all: there is no "ghetto" established, as the laws that the prevailing governing body passes will apply to the entire incorporated area (city, county, state, whatever). The key difference is that without the gerrymandering, there will be no voice in that governing body to represent the extreme minority's interests at all. So it's actually anti-segregationist, since it gives the minority a stronger voice than they would have otherwise.

              That's a horrible way to fix the problem. It's better to have a proportional system, where parties are awarded seats in the government/state/county in proportion to the popular vote. The problem only occurs in winner-takes-all systems in the first place.

              If we accept gerrymandering to give certain minorities a vote, we're also giving politicians an excuse for abusing the system to further their own power.

              And yes, it's segregationist. Segregation means you separate ethnic groups. Having good intentions or giv

              • That's a horrible way to fix the problem. It's better to have a proportional system, where parties are awarded seats in the government/state/county in proportion to the popular vote.

                Yeah, it works brilliantly in Italy.

                • by metacell (523607)

                  Most other European countries have proportional systems, and it works well (as politics goes).

                  The problem with Italy seems to be widespread corruption and a less-than-serious attitude (like when they voted a porn star into the parliament).

        • by icebike (68054) *

          If the minority happens to be geographically localized, drawing electoral boundaries appropriately can restore them to a proportionate amount of political power.

          However, you must admit that is a pretty big IF.

          In a mobile and free nation It is unlikely to be the case that they will localized.

          And of course underlying your whole assumption is a disturbing assumption of racism.

        • by sFurbo (1361249)

          If there is a minority (ethnic or otherwise) with interests differing from that of the majority, that minority may be underrepresented in representative systems.

          Only if you use winner-take-all voting with no adjusting, and no country would do that, that would ensure a two-party system which would no represent the best interest of the public. Oh, wait....

          Or, in other words, fix the problem, not one of the symptoms. The problem is that winner-take-all is not going to be representative, and furthermore that it will encourage the forming of two huge parties, neither of which will have interests coinciding with the public.

        • So why stop at minorities? Create districts where only the educated, green party, libertarians, sharia supporters,....

          Once you start rigging districts to give minorities a unified vote, you suddenly have a whole pile of minorities that don't get the same treatment and are discriminated against.

      • by mwvdlee (775178)

        Assume all majority people vote party X and all minorities vote party Y, both voted in equal proportions and all districts consisted of 51% majority people, party X would win 100% of the districts. Rearranging districts might end up giving party Y a majority of districts.
        Neither is good, as both misrepresent the votes. As long as a district system is used, votes are misrepresented as not all votes will be weighed equally.

      • For whatever the "intended purpose", attempts at gerrymandering can backfire. The more extreme the attempted gerrymander, the more disastrous the outcome can be (at least, in a fair election). The result can even be Tullymandering [wikimedia.org].

    • Re:Gerrymandering (Score:5, Insightful)

      by aardvarkjoe (156801) on Monday October 01, 2012 @07:38PM (#41520311)

      Gerrymandering can be used for good too such as creating voting districts consisting of mostly Blacks or other minorities so they can elect a (favored minority) representative

      Whether or not this is ever "good" is debatable, to say the least.

      I live in a so-called "majority-minority" district which was considered a lock for a minority candidate since its creation. The incumbent has done such a poor job that he came fairly close to losing the election in 2010. The response? They adjusted the lines to pull extra minorities into his district to ensure that would never happen again.

      The message there was clear: your vote counts for nothing. The representative has already been chosen by those who set up the districts.

    • Gerrymandering is not exactly fraud.

      Perhaps, [wikipedia.org] but TFA isn't really about gerrymandering, although it gets a brief mention in the introduction.

    • Re:Gerrymandering (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Charliemopps (1157495) on Monday October 01, 2012 @07:51PM (#41520433)
      Let's be clear... it is, in fact, fraud. It is not, however, illegal. There are plenty of hateful and immoral things, especially when it comes to elections, that are not illegal. Gerrymandering is clearly one of them. If anything proves beyond a doubt that your vote doesn't really count for anything and our elections are rigged, it's Gerrymandering. It's also, ironically, the reason Ron Paul is losing his district.
      • by GreyLurk (35139)
        I think that fraud has to include some element of secrecy. Gerrymandering is not secretive, it's practiced openly, and in full public view. The voting district lines are available to anyone who wanders in to your county offices.
        • by jlechem (613317)
          I have to agree with this, here in Utah they re-drew the entire state's districts for the house and congress to skew even more Republic then we already do and to especially screw Jim Matheson. It made all the local news, papers, and even the local NPR but no one I knew hardly gave a shit.
          • by Fnord666 (889225)

            but no one I knew hardly gave a shit.

            So everyone you knew at least gave a shit, and did you mean that literally or figuratively?

    • by metacell (523607)

      Gerrymandering can be used for good too such as creating voting districts consisting of mostly Blacks or other minorities so they can elect a (favored minority) representative and have a say in the political process.

      You mean, so the blacks become "equal but separate"?

    • by mdfst13 (664665)

      You can get the good things from potential gerrymanders without the bad parts. Instead of dividing into districts, use a proportional representation system where people vote for lists of candidates. That way, if minorities prefer to vote for other minorities, they can. If they prefer to vote based on party, they can. If they prefer to vote on some other basis, they can. Essentially this lets voters choose their representatives rather than letting politicians choose their voters.

      This also solves the pro

    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      Or just use proportional representation instead of districts.

  • by sacrilicious (316896) on Monday October 01, 2012 @07:41PM (#41520355) Homepage
    ... dare I ask how one pronounces "PNAS"?
    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Pee NAZ, usually. Not Pee NIS, as you're evidently thinking. Not that A and I ever sound remotely like each other.

      • Not that A and I ever sound remotely like each other.

        They bleddy well do if you tok likk a Sitt Ifrikken.

  • Fraud (Score:2, Informative)

    by fm6 (162816)

    Gerrymandering is the creative drawing of district boundaries to ensure a desired outcome. It's not a good thing, but it's hardly fraud, since there's no disconnect between who got the votes and who got elected.

    Intimidating voters is an evil thing — using extortion to influence an election. But once again, not fraud.

    Not all evils are the same, which is why we have different laws to cover stealing from a bank with a forged check and stealing from a bank with a gun.

  • I see they've used the recent parliamentary ('11) and presidential ('12) Russian elections as one of the inputs, and they do indeed show some nice graphs there. Well, good to know that at least there is something good for science coming out of that mess.

  • Seriously. The whole point of the law is to make sure people are only voting where they live. In Wisconsin at least, IDs for voting are free. Yet, people cry "disenfranchisement", as if somehow anyone, even someone who has no job, can somehow survive without a state issued ID. Can someone please, without frothing at the mouth and namecalling, help me understand what the actual objections of "Wow, you should be able to prove you're voting where you live", is a problem? Especially when, see previous re:
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 01, 2012 @10:27PM (#41521451)

      Well the Republican house leader from Pennsylvania can help you out there:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o32tF-S6K60

      Even the Republican House Leader admits the law was intended to let Mitt Romney win Pen State.

      They made a list of specific forms of ID that are valid and ones that are not. That list gives a heavily weighted bias to Republicans. So 15 million people need a new government ID in Republican states, those people are mostly Democrat and unaligned voters. They'll have to get this Id from governments under GOP control that haven't invested in the capacity to issue all of those IDs until after the elections.

      That's enough to probably win Pen State for Mitt Romney. They know it, that's what it was intended to do. Yet the claim is of 'buses' moving fake voters from state to state. When they've investigated that claim, it's been found to be completely bogus. Misregistrations being so far below statistical significance as to be one of the more ludicrous claim Fox has made.

    • by artor3 (1344997) on Monday October 01, 2012 @10:53PM (#41521555)

      Very simple.

      The purpose of an election is to determine will of the majority (or at least plurality) of the voting public.

      If Alice and Bob are running against each other, and an illegal immigrant casts a ballot for Alice, then the election is biased 1 vote towards her.

      But in the same scenario, if one person who was planning to vote for Bob gives up due to long lines, then the election is also biased by 1 vote towards Alice.

      The two situations have roughly the same impact, and there's no rational reason to worry about one over the other. So, if you want voter ID laws, you must prove that the number of false ballots that such laws stop exceeds the number of valid ballots that are also stopped.

      So where is your evidence of widespread voter fraud? You don't have any, because it doesn't even make sense to commit that style of fraud. If you wanted to steal an election, you would bribe a few dozen people to stuff ballot boxes, not a few hundred thousand to cast false ballots. There's simply no way a conspiracy of such tremendous size could be kept secret.

    • You must be new to politics. Fixing non-existent problems they can't prove exist is a dead give away. duh!

      The complex rules and regulations on voting coming from the proponents of Voter IDs are where the true motives become clear-- the devil is in the details. Never trust a politician's summarization. Do you trust marketing claims? Probably, they hire marketing firms to sell you both.

      How about this: You have a great popular video game; everybody wants it, but it includes a Sony-like DRM rootkit backdoor

    • by thesandtiger (819476) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @08:51AM (#41524961)

      Does getting the ID require that a person provide any documents that they must pay for? How hard is it for poor people to get those for free, and how much extra work do they need to do to prove they're poor enough to qualify for the free ID or ancillary documentation? Does it require that they go to a particular place during working hours to obtain it and if so does it compensate poor people for their time and travel expenses, as well as contact their employer to ensure that they are not penalized for taking that time? Does it require that they actually have a home address/proof of address in order to obtain one, and if so, how are homeless people handled? How are voters informed of the need for an ID in order to vote, and does it take into account language issues, homelessness issues, and any other obstacle to being informed that disproportionately affects poor people and minorities?

      Those are very, very real problems for people who are already on the margins, and those issues act as a massive disincentive for those people to get an ID and the people behind those laws know it.

      For you and me, getting an ID is nothing more than hopping in the car, going to the DMV, paying pocket change to get the ID and then being on our merry way. Our employers won't fire us for needing a couple of hours to run that errand. For someone who is on the margin, though, it can be a goddamn epic adventure through bureaucracy that ultimately is confusing, frustrating and ultimately may end in failure and come at a cost far higher than you are aware of.

      I do research with participants who are below the poverty line, and believe me, the hoops my participants have to jump through and the extra effort they have to go through to even get to the point where they can jump through those hoops is staggering.

      Further, the problem that voter IDs are intended to prevent is not, in fact, a problem: retail voter fraud of the sort IDs would theoretically address is pretty much nonexistent, and is completely dwarfed by wholesale vote manipulation that is either intentional or accidental.

      Finally, many voter ID laws allow some forms of ID but not others, and the allowed types of IDs in those states overwhelmingly are owned by people who tend to vote more conservatively, while the disallowed ones tend to belong to people who would skew more towards the liberal demographic.

      It's a bullshit issue, it costs way more money to implement than the "problem" it solves costs society and it is intended to limit turnout of those people who most need representation in our society. Anyone who is a fan of voter ID laws is, to be charitable, misinformed at best and actively seeking to disenfranchise others at worst, and they are encouraging costly government intervention where none is needed.

  • ...typically 100% turnout for a vote-counting region, with 100% voting for the winning party...

    Um, just exactly how much statistical analysis is necessary to declare this fraud?

  • So fraudsters will apply the same algorithm to make their fraud plausible. Yeah, very useful, indeed.

  • Election fraud (Score:4, Interesting)

    by xenobyte (446878) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @01:29AM (#41522179)

    Disclaimer: I haven't read TFA - my PDF-reader locks up on this document for some reason.

    There is one kind of fraud that can never be detected by any means, and that it to alter each vote as they are placed, i.e. identical in every way to the voter having cast his vote elsewhere. Electronic voting machines are perfect for this. A similar technique would be to point a gun at some of the voters head and make them vote a certain way.

    "Suffing the ballot boxes" - reminds me of that Blackadder episode with the "rotten borough" with just one voter: Baldrick of course. When he has cast his vote the result is announced: A completely new candidate wins with over 1.000 write-in votes, and one invalid vote (Baldricks obviously) is disregarded. That was clearly a perfectly fine election with no statistical anormalies.

  • by grandpa-geek (981017) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @09:16AM (#41525283)

    For example, there is very strong evidence that Scott Brown reached the US Senate as a result of election fraud. Details are in http://electiondefensealliance.org/files/BelieveIt_OrNot_100904.pdf [electionde...liance.org] That analysis compared the results in machine count jurisdictions and hand count jurisdictions. The usual disparity between hand count and machine count results (based on prior elections) runs around 0.25%. Coakley led in hand count jurisdictions by 2% and Brown in machine count jurisdictions by 5%. That is a 7% disparity. It also turns out that the company operating the machine counts was Republican-connected, and that the ballots were neither saved nor sampled to validate the accuracy of the machine counts. There are numerous ways to tamper with a machine count of paper ballots, especially in a two-person special election.

    The method published in the subject paper could not pick up this kind of election fraud.

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but "That's funny ..." -- Isaac Asimov

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