Widespread ballot-box stuffing and fraud likely occurred in the 2012 Russian presidential election that returned Vladimir Putin to the office, according to a new statistical model. The analysis, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also identifies Uganda as a site of widespread election tampering.
There have been rumors of election fraud in Russia for the past several elections, and they reached a fever pitch this year. But election fraud is difficult to prove. Past approaches looked for examples of something called "Benford's law," which looks for regularities in the numbers reported in elections-- like the presence of too many zeros because someone rigging the election prizes multiples of ten. But that approach has been difficult to apply, because it requires that analysts know just how many of each digit are likely to occur in the results of a fair election.
The new model, created by a team of Austrian scientists, takes a much more rigorous statistical approach, but it relies on a relatively simple idea: If an election has areas that have extremely high voter turnout -- close to 100% -- where that turnout is mostly for one candidate, the fix is likely in.
The researchers created plots from past elections in Russia, Uganda, Austria, France and seven other countries, selected because election data was readily available. For each of the countries, voter turnout in each geographic area was plotted against the percentage of people in those areas who voted for the winning candidate.