Latin America

Unexplained Phenomena: Election Edition

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Venezuela's opposition leaders have boycotted the audit (results due today!) of Sunday's election, claiming—to quote the Associated Press—that "they had unearthed new evidence of fraud, which they insisted the audit as proposed by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and the Organization of American States would fail to detect." Here's the argument:

Rampersad claimed touch-screen voting machines in at least 500 polling sites produced the exact same number of "yes" votes in favor of ousting Chavez, a result he said was statistically impossible. He said the supposed finding indicated the machines were rigged to impose a ceiling on "yes" votes.

The audit intended to compare electronic and paper ballots. But Rampersad said opponents were concerned the paper ballots which have been under the care of Venezuela's military may have been tampered with since Sunday's votes. He said the opposition wanted the audit to include an examination of the internal workings of the machines' software.

But according to The New York Times, the audit is examining "150 voting tables—each with two or three voting machines." Perhaps I'm missing some important distinction here. Does the opposition simply want the auditors to look at more machines? Is the complaint that they're not examining all the inner workings of those machines? Or are they just looking for excuses to throw doubt on the results? (Those aren't rhetorical questions: I'd like to hear from people who have been following this more closely than I have. I'd also like to hear more about those election observers who have reportedly disputed the opposition's claims of irregularities.)

Meanwhile, pro-Chavez forces have noted some alleged anomalies of their own. From one election night report:

Already with just minutes to spare before 3:00 p.m. international media began receiving emails from IP address 172.138.233.63 claiming to release preliminary results….We do not give much credence to the information since tracing the sender IP to Virginia, USA.

Update: Carroll Andrew Morse has more information at TechCentralStation.

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  1. Shannon: Careful, you’re projecting our political landscape on someone else’s society. In fact, a high turnout is likely any time there’s a divisive issue on the ballot, and a lot of Venezuelans have very strong feelings about Chavez, the coup, and the direction of their country.

    Chavez has this in common with Castro: both men seem to have a symbolic meaning far in excess of their real importance. Just reading these posts indicates that everyone has REALLY STRONG feelings about Chavez without really explaining why it matters so much. Because he gives out jobs to his friends or wants to redirect wealth to this political supporters? NOOOOOO…not in LATIN AMERICA!

    For all the muttering about the “chain of custody” regarding the ballots, at least there will be paper ballots to look at. Will there be paper ballots for us to compare after the November election? Ummmm…no.

    ONE exit poll showed a majority in favor of the recall. That poll was financed by the US Government (my tax dollars at work) which has been campaigning against Chavez for years (a lot of my tax dollars at work. sigh.) Other exit polls projected different outcomes. Seizing on one that was very different from the others and was staffed and paid for by people openly hostile to Chavez is rather like basing environmental laws on a single study which contradicts all the other studies.

    We wouldn’t want to do that, would we?

  2. Hit and Run has yet to scratch the surface of the foulness going on down there under Castro’s buddy.

  3. Chavez’ regime is the left’s wet dream. So I doubt a Canadian observer would have had anything bad to say about it so long as Chavez won, to say nothing of the “academics” who function as “experts” in the news.

    “(The fraud claim) is partly to sustain a very strong, fanatical . . . part of Venezuelan politics that has been there since the 1940s and is still refusing to concede to more democratic norms,”

    I wonder whether it is the democratic norm to support China’s human rights record as unimpeachable, shut down Congress, and arrest people for criticizing the government.

  4. rst: you are so right. all canadians are lefties and they will happily lie and ignore an obviously rigged election in order to maintain their wet dream. (elections in canada have all been run that way since 1905.)

  5. IP address 172.138.233.63 routes to AOL. Can’t an opposition party poorly chose an ISP? Nothing suspicious about that, per se.

  6. Shannon Love,

    (1) Turn out for the election was high. In most places that indicates strong dissatisfaction with the incumbent.

    In American elections perhaps, but that may not be true of elections everywhere; indeed, Europeans have notoriously high election turnouts that send the incumbent back into office. In other words, take off your biased cultural goggles off.

    (2) Exit polling showed Chevez going down to defeat by a wide margin.

    It appears that at least some of the exit polling was done by opposition parties that were working on contract for folks here in the states; not all of the exit polls pointed towards a Chavez victory; and finally exit polls are hardly the faultless devices you appear to imply that they are.

    (3) The international observers declared the election fair before any audits were done.

    The international observers, including the US State Department, stated that there was no apparent fraud demonstrated so far; the spin both pro and anti Chavez people have been putting on their statements is laughable.

    Furthermore, the opposition, after demanding an audit, has now stated that it won’t participate in one.

    (4) The chain of custody of the paper ballots, which record the votes cast electronically, is uncertain. It appears that the ballots have been in the custody of Chevez supporters.

    URL?

    Chevez might have won fair and square by Latin American standards. It would not be first time that people voted themselves a dictator.

    Can you forgo the ethnic slurs please? Thanks. BTW, America has no bragging rights with regard to elections and election fraud.

    Jesse Walker,

    That said, if it’s true that many machines topped out at the exact same round number of yes votes, that does sound suspicious.

    Ths “Yes Cap” theory is not much of an argument. First, there are many “No Cap” machines, and second, given that there were ~20,000 “tables” in this election the probability that a significant number of them will have the same exact round number isn’t unusual. I’ve done vote counting work before in New Hampshire and Alabama and I was always amazed at the number of vote tallies which were the same on the yes or no side.

    Not that fraud wasn’t possible of course (indeed, some fraud likely occurred, since fraud is just something that is “natural” to any election in any country); however, the accusations I’ve seen so far appear to border on those one finds with Democrats still pissed off about Florida. BTW, just to forgo the usual ranting, I am not a Chavez supporter.

  7. The International Herald Tribune has a bit more on the opposition’s claims. I don’t know enough about the audit process to understand why it would or would not address their specific claims of software-based fraud.

    http://www.iht.com/articles/534518.html

  8. Arguments in the opposition’s favor:

    (1) Turn out for the election was high. In most places that indicates strong dissatisfaction with the incumbent.

    (2) Exit polling showed Chevez going down to defeat by a wide margin.

    (3) The international observers declared the election fair before any audits were done.

    (4) The chain of custody of the paper ballots, which record the votes cast electronically, is uncertain. It appears that the ballots have been in the custody of Chevez supporters.

    Chevez might have won fair and square by Latin American standards. It would not be first time that people voted themselves a dictator.

  9. Shannon: I’m not very impressed by claims of fraud based on exit polling, and if Chavez is as popular with his base as some accounts say he is then I could easily imagine a heavy turnout to defeat the recall.

    That said, if it’s true that many machines topped out at the exact same round number of yes votes, that does sound suspicious.

    Fenimore: The e-mails didn’t claim to be coming from the opposition. They claimed to be “preliminary results” of the election.

  10. Gary: I don’t know how many machines with identical “yes” counts it would take for those results to be a serious statistical anomaly. You could very well be correct. I’m just saying that, of the charges I’ve seen, this is the one that most sounds like it deserves further investigation. (And, perhaps, further analysis from someone much more knowledgeable about electoral probabilities than I am.)

  11. Jesse Walker,

    Oh, I would have no issue with further investigation either (at least up to a point); I was just saying that you should expect a certain number machines, etc. with the same tallies.

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