Monday, October 12, 2020

Kyrgyzstan unrest highlights ills of political clientelism



Hordes of outraged Kyrgyz citizens have spilled into the streets of Bishkek, overrunning several government buildings and springing a number of opposition figures from jail in the process. The protesters, armed with rocks, have been battling the police in close quarters, leaving one protester dead and some 500 others wounded.

The ongoing turmoil has set off an unexpected turn of events — the election commission has annulled the results of the elections, Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov has resigned from office, and his post temporarily filled by Sadyr Zhaparov, one of the opposition figures released by protesters.

At the root of the unrest is political clientelism and its most common manifestation, vote-buying. The opposition is roiling with suspicions that the administration massively bought votes in the recent parliamentary elections. Although Kyrgyzstan is known to have one of the freer elections among the Central Asian countries, the recent incidents have revealed the ills of political patronage which has plagued the rocky history of the young republic.

In the 2017 presidential elections which installed current president Sooronbai Jeenbekov into power, for example, European observers noted massive vote buying. Although the observers cited the elections as a step towards being a full-fledged democracy for the ex-Soviet state, they emphasized the need to address the issue of political patronage squarely.

The parliamentary elections in 2015 was also marred by charges of vote buying.

Kyrgyzstan is just one of many democracies around the world which are grappling with the deleterious effects of political clientelism. Recently, charges of vote buying have hounded elections in Thailand, Indonesia, and Kenya, among others.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

2016 Philippine elections free from fraud - forensics experts

Elections forensics experts Kirill Kalinin, a national fellow at the Hoover Institution, and Professor Allen Hicken of the University of Michigan have concluded in a study that the contested 2016 Philippine general elections was free from fraud.

A paper titled “Using Election Forensics to Detect Election Fraud in the Philippine Elections, 2016,” revealed its key findings that the Philippine 2016 elections were relatively clean.

This study used the tools of election forensics to investigate charges of electoral fraud in the Philippine national elections of 2026.

“We focused on digit tests, finite mixture model and its equivalents. We pay particular attention to the measurement of stolen votes and geographic allocation of election fraud across national elections. We then focus on Marcos v. Robredo court case, which helps us to validate some of our research findings for the vice-presidential election,” the paper said.

It will be recalled that defeated vice-presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. had filed an electoral protest against the winner Vice President Ma. Leonor Robredo for alleged fraud. Although the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, composed of Supreme Court justices and tasked to decide on electoral disputes involving the two top elective positions, has yet to issue a formal ruling, it commented last year that its recount showed Robredo increasing her lead.

The study further said that even though there is some limited evidence suggesting the presence of election fraud, “their effect on the electoral outcome for the national races is insignificant.”

Election forensics is an emergent discipline which employs a diverse set of statistical tools such as Benford’s Law and other techniques similar to those employed to detect financial fraud, to analyze electoral data for pattern deviations which could suggest fraud.

According to the Institute of International Education (IIE), which is at the forefront of the new field, “numbers that humans have manipulated present patterns that are unlikely to occur if produced by a natural process—such as free and fair elections or normal commercial transactions.”

“These deviations suggest either that the numbers were intentionally altered or that other factors—such as a range of normal strategic voting practices—influenced the electoral results. The greater the number of statistical tests that identify patterns that deviate from what is expected to naturally occur, the more likely that the deviation results from fraud rather than legal strategic voting.”

Thursday, September 10, 2020

How bullet-proof is the paper ballot?

Calls to modernize elections are often answered with warnings. Skeptics claim that automated election systems lack the necessary mechanisms to ensure the integrity of the vote. These promoters of paper ballots seem to forget that basically all recorded cases of election fraud were conducted while using paper-based systems.

The article Cheating with Paper Ballots, by Professor Andrew Appel from Princeton University, debunks the notion of the infallibility of the paper ballot as he enumerated several possible ways to commit electoral fraud using these instruments.

One method, Appel said in the article, is to steal the entire ballot box and replace the paper ballots with fraudulent ballots marked differently, or just ignore the paper ballots entirely.

The article reveals that the practice used to happen on a regular basis, citing an example: “That is, in some counties, the party bosses who controlled the polling places and ballot boxes would just report whatever counts they wanted, regardless of the ballots. [See also: Robert Caro, Means of Ascent, 1991, Chapter 13]. In the 19th and early 20th century, insider election fraud was widespread in the U.S. [Saltman, The History and Politics of Voting Technology, 2006],” the article continued.

The practice of ballot-stuffing and ballot box-snatching appear to be prevalent in other parts as well, as evidenced by the conviction of a former Philadelphia Congressman, as well as reports in Russia, and in the Philippines.

Another method to cheat in elections that use ballot paper is by sabotaging the audit or recount, the article said.

“While working in a recount (or audit) of paper ballots, hide a bit of pencil lead under your fingernail. Surreptitiously mark overvotes on ballots marked for the candidate you don’t like,” Appel said.

Appel’s observations squares with a documented of incident in the Philippines where fraudsters appear to have made post-election tampering on ballots to sow confusion and undermine the legitimacy of the results.

The article argues that what all this illustrates is that “paper ballots with audits and recounts, by themselves, are not a panacea.”

Interestingly, Appel recommends the use of a precinct-count optical scan to counter such fraud.

“Votes are recorded and tabulated by the voting machine immediately as they are cast; paper ballots are saved in a sealed ballot box for later audit or recount,” Appel said.

“The election fraudster will find it more difficult to make fraudulent paper ballots that exactly match a fraudulent voting machine’s report, than to hack just the voting machine or just the paper ballots. Although the paper ballots are the default ballot of record, serious discrepancies can lead to investigations. Once it ends up in court, the judge can hear evidence; perhaps there will be reason to rule that the machine counts are trustworthy where the paper ballots are not,” the article continued.

This excellent article by this Princeton scholar is a clarion call to modernize voting systems. Election administrators must take advantage of any available technology that enhances the speed, accuracy and auditability of the count.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

How elections are faring in the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is leaving in its wake a massive reordering of society such as has never seen before. In an instant, the avoidance of the virus had taken primacy over any other activity, dragging along with it whole institutions and practices that for centuries have been largely taken for granted. Elections, whose clockwork regularity has been used by most democracies to mark time, are now in the entirely unfamiliar center of debate about possible postponement. 

Already, some elections in the following jurisdictions have been rescheduled to a later date, to wit: Botswana, Chad, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Somalia, South Africa, Tunisia, Uganda, Zimbabwe. Anguilla, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Kamloops, Lytton, Canada, New Brunswick; Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, French Guiana, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Australia, among others. According to Idea International, since February 21 and up until August 23, “at least 70 countries and territories across the globe have decided to postpone national and subnational elections due to COVID-19”.

Yet postponement is by no means the only response to the pandemic. Some electoral boards have successfully mitigated the risk by implementing Safe In Person voting measures, allowing for election continuity. Some notable elections that went ahead as scheduled were: Taiwan parliamentary elections, Singapore parliamentary elections, Slovakia general elections, Queensland, Cameroon parliamentary elections, Dominican Republic municipal elections, France local elections, Germany local elections in Bavaria, Guyana legislative elections, Israel legislative elections, Mali general elections, Tajikistan parliamentary elections, Ukraine by-elections in Kharkov region, primaries in the US; Vanuatu general elections, Japan local by-elections, South Korea parliamentary elections, Switzerland municipal elections in Geneva, among others.

Still other elections are right on track, the most eagerly anticipated of which is the US presidential elections in November. Although trial balloons have been flown to test the idea of postponing the exercise, public opinion has been quick to shoot them down. Under US laws, it would take a federal legislation to move the date of the elections, something that would necessitate a law enacted by Congress, signed by the president and subject to challenge in the courts.

While the issue of safety is paramount, the possibility that election delays could undermine democracy is very real, so much so that the EU has issued a paper urging member states to arrive at a nuanced decision regarding postponements. 

“When it comes to elections, decision makers should be very cautious when deciding to hold or postpone them by navigating carefully through constitutional and legal parameters,” the paper said, adding that “in case of postponement, public concerns about perceived attempts at extending mandates of incumbents “undemocratically” should be seriously considered.” 

However, the paper argues that proceeding with elections in COVID-19 hotspots carries with it the risk of considerably hobbling campaigns and further reducing the already rapidly declining voter turnout, thereby undermining the legitimacy of the elections.