Making Votes Count: Logical Inconsistencies in Voting Records
In order to help monitor the fidelity of the October 2016 parliamentary election results, CRRC-Georgia will carry out quantitative analysis of election-related statistics using methods from the field of election forensics within the auspices of the Detecting Election Fraud through Data Analysis (DEFDA) project. The Project is funded by the Embassy of the United States of America in Georgia, however, none of the views expressed in the following blog post represent the views of the US Embassy in Georgia or any related US Government entity.
On August 19th, 2016 CRRC-Georgia presented and published a pre-analysis report for the project, which contained analysis of the new electoral boundaries set up following the 2015 constitutional court ruling that the previous boundaries were unconstitutional. The report also demonstrated how the methods of statistical analysis that CRRC-Georgia will use to monitor the 2016 elections work in practice. To do so, we used precinct level data from the 2012 party list elections. Specifically, CRRC-Georgia carried out two types of statistical analyses:
- Logical checks of official election returns, which test whether there were data entry errors when the vote was being recorded and collated;
- Tests for statistical anomalies in the official electoral returns, which may suggest electoral malfeasance.
While today’s blog shows the logical checks that CRRC will apply to the final CEC vote records, tomorrow we will discuss the tests used to identify statistical anomalies in vote counts.
Logical inconsistencies in voting records
For the 2016 elections we will carry out two types of checks of the logical consistency of votes. Specifically, we will check:
- Whether there are more or less votes and invalid ballots than signatures recorded on voter rolls;
- Whether turnout increases over the course of the day.
Voter signatures - Votes recorded - invalid ballots ≠ 0
Taken together, the number of signatures recorded for ballots minus the number of votes recorded minus the number of invalid ballots should equal zero. However, in the 2012 parliamentary proportional list elections this was not the case in approximately 25% of precincts. From the 3,680 precincts which had ten votes or more:
- 936 precincts had more or less signatures than votes and invalid ballots (25% of all precincts);
- Of these, 918 had more signatures registered than votes recorded for a party or ballots registered as invalid combined;
- 18 precincts had fewer signatures than votes registered for a party and invalid ballots combined.
These phenomena likely have numerous causes. While some are problematic, others are benign.
To start with the 918 cases of fewer votes registered for a party or invalid ballots than signatures recorded, the severity of the issue varies widely. In order to provide some sense of the gravity of the issue, we have grouped precincts by the number of extra signatures into three categories: unlikely to be problematic (1-9 extra signatures), potentially problematic (10-49 extra signatures), and suspicious (50 or more extra signatures). Table 1 presents the number of precincts that fall into each category:
Notably, of the 46 suspicious cases, 42 are in foreign precincts. With foreign precincts, we strongly suspect that there was a data entry error as discussed in more depth in our report. Among domestic precincts, there are four suspicious precincts with more than 50 extra signatures. In Marneuli’s 22nd precinct, there were 51 extra signatures. In Khashuri’s 32nd precinct, there were 63 extra signatures. In Gori’s 63rd precinct, there were 71 extra signatures, and in Bolnisi’s 62nd precinct, there were 87 extra signatures.
Potential causes for this situation include voters coming to polling stations, and:
- Signing the voter list and leaving without voting;
- Voting only in the majoritarian race rather than in both the proportional and majoritarian races;
- Additionally, Precinct Electoral Commissions may have inaccurately recorded votes, invalid ballots, and/or signature counts.
In 18 cases, there were less signatures on voter rolls than ballots declared invalid and votes recorded. In 17 of the 18 cases there were 10 votes or less that were without a signature. However, in Gori there were 196. This may stem from a recording error, since there was a very high number of invalid ballots (221), or this may stem from another issue. Generally however, the causes of there being more votes and invalid ballots than signature recorded, the causes are less benign. They include:
- Precinct electoral commissions may have incorrectly counted or reported vote statistics;
- Voters were allowed to vote without signing the voter list;
- Ballot box stuffing occurred.
Another clear logical inconsistency in the official statistics on the 2012 elections is that the number of votes in several precincts declined between 12PM and 5PM, as well as in one district between 5PM and 8PM. That is to say, according to the official record, fewer people had voted at 5PM, in total, compared to five hours earlier at 12PM in these districts.
This is likely to be caused by a reporting error, with precinct officials recording the number of votes between these hours rather than the total number of votes at 5PM.
While each of the above logical inconsistencies in recording the vote is clearly an issue, which could imply malfeasance, we strongly suspect that the vast majority of cases described above stem from recording and data entry errors. While, we do not suspect malfeasance in any particular case, and do not believe that recording issues affected the outcome of the 2012 elections, the illogical recording of the vote is a serious issue.
In Georgia, elections and the outcomes of elections are regularly contested, with accusations of all sorts following the results. If Georgian voters see that the voting records have logical inconsistencies in them, this could undermine citizens’ confidence in the accuracy of the vote, and thus the legitimacy of election results.
Based on this, we recommend that the Central Election Commission, District Election Commissions, and Precinct Election Commissions check for logical inconsistencies in election protocols on election day and explain logical inconsistencies in a public and transparent manner if they do occur. Particular emphasis in trainings should be placed on how to fill out voter protocols.
In Thursday’s blog, we show how we will carry out tests for electoral malfeasance in the 2016 elections using tests from the field of election forensics. In the meantime, check out our full report or this visualization of the issues which Jumpstart Georgia created.