On the Elections: Election Fingerprints

philippines politics statistics

In this elections series, we’ll explore various aspects of the 2016 Philippine National Elections, from fraud detection to the differences in how our country votes. In this first instalment, we learn about election fingerprints and how they may be used to detect fraud in the form of ballot stuffing or vote padding.

TJ Palanca https://www.twitter.com/tjpalanca

Election data geekery

For the first time, the data geeks have finally gotten some love. Highly detailed elections results, broken down all the way to the precinct level, have been published online by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) as well as poll watchers and the media.

There are many things I imagine we could do with this data, but one of the most popular uses is to assess the risk of elections irregularities. For the first few parts of this series, we’ll try to carefully and scientifically assess the risk of election irregularities.

Going back to the methodology highlighted in a 2014 post, part 1 of this series will focus on detecting elections irregularities through vote padding, defined as the adding of fraudulent votes into the count to increase a candidate’s probability of a win, or, conversely, the shaving of legitimate votes from the count to decrease a candidate’s probability of a win.

Statistical detection of vote padding

Vote padding, sometimes called ballot stuffing, is a form of electoral fraud that involves adding fake votes or shaving legitimate votes to favor a particular candidate. This is not be detectable in the final aggregated election results. However, if vote padding only occurs in a subset of jurisdictions it can change the distribution of voter turnout and vote share in a way that allows detection from granular election data.

This method was demonstrated in this PNAS Paper(Klimek et al. 2012), where they showed that Russian and Ugandan elections, known to be marred with electoral fraud, contained ‘election fingerprints’ that we smeared towards the top left: