Tuesday, 17 December, 2013 | 13:00 | Defense - PhD

Dmitriy Vorobyev: “Essays on Electoral Fraud”

Dissertation Committee:
Libor Dušek (chair)
Levent Çelik
Jan Hanousek
Peter Katuščák



Elections are fundamental to democracy. Over the last decades researchers have extensively studied various aspects of an electoral game such as behavior of voters and candidates or impact of different voting rules on outcomes and efficiency. Though the approaches taken to analyzing elections are incredibly diverse, almost all of them share one common feature: it is assumed that elections are well-functioning mechanisms for converting public preferences into social choice, and that the outcomes of elections are fully determined by votes casted for the candidates. However, in reality fraud has become an integral part of electoral competition in both established democracies and less-than-democratic regimes, despite tremendous efforts exerted by international organizations to ensure transparency in elections. In recent years, both economists and political scientists have started to pay closer attention to elections that lack integrity, but there are still plenty of open questions on all sides of the electoral game in a fraudulent context. In my dissertation I study various aspects of electoral fraud, both theoretically and empirically, to answer some of them.

In the first chapter, I explore how electoral fraud affects voters' participation decisions. For this purpose I analyze a costly voting model of elections, where the incumbent can stuff the ballot box. I find that, in contrast to clean elections where there is usually a unique equilibrium, two stable equilibria may exist: full abstention equilibrium, where the incumbent wins with certainty and which exists only if the incumbent's capability to stuff a ballot box is sufficiently strong; and a more efficient coordination equilibrium, where a substantial share of a challenger's supporters vote and the probability that the incumbent will be defeated is high. Since voters do not take into account positive externality they produce on other voters when deciding to cast their votes, participation in coordination equilibrium is still inefficiently low. Thus, subsidization as well as introducing compulsory voting may improve efficiency. Since the higher capability of the incumbent to stuff a ballot box discourages the participation of his own supporters and can create coordination incentives for the challenger's supporters, higher fraud does not always benefit the incumbent even when it is costless. The model simultaneously explains two empirical observations about fraudulent elections: a positive relationship between fraud and victory margins and a negative effect of fraud on turnout.

All the main findings on electoral fraud in previous literature are derived from the analysis of particular elections in a given country at a given moment, while the issues of fraud dynamics have attracted limited attention. This is surprising, because studying the evolution of fraud seems extremely important from many different perspectives. Comprehensively studying political regimes, designing effective electoral legislation and, especially, assessing the effectiveness of electoral monitoring are much harder to do without an understanding of fraud dynamics. In the second chapter of my dissertation, I study the evolution of electoral fraud over life-times of non-democratic regimes. I present evidence of fraud growth over the lifetime of non-democratic regimes using the example of post-Soviet and Sub-Saharan countries, and provide a theoretical framework to explain the observed tendency. I develop a probabilistic voting model of electoral competition with falsifications where the incumbent faces two types of uncertainty. First, he is uncertain about voters' attitude towards fraud and, second, he does not know for sure his true level of support because of a random component in voters' preferences for the candidates. The model predicts that lower uncertainty about voters' fraud intolerance provides stronger incentives for the incumbent to commit fraud. Over time, with each following election, the incumbent becomes more certain about voters' reaction to fraud as he learns through Bayesian updating and, thus, as the deterrent role of fraud intolerance uncertainty declines, incentives to commit fraud become stronger, providing a growing fraud profile.

One reason electoral fraud suffers from a relative lack of attention in the academic literature is the absence of a reliable measure of fraud. The inability to measure fraud in a consistent way precludes implementation of reliable empirical research on fraudulent elections, which in turn discourages efforts towards a theoretical study of electoral fraud, as it is hard to test any theory in this field. The existing methods of fraud detection are more qualitative than quantitative, often based on the subjective assessment of electoral transparency by observers or other participants of the electoral process, and the results they produce may not always be treated as fully reliable. In the third dissertation chapter, I suggest a simple statistical method for testing for the presence of fraud in the forms of ballot stuffing, multiple voting and vote buying (probably the most widespread fraud techniques), and for estimating the magnitude of fraud, even when very limited official electoral data are available. The method is based on the observation that ballot stuffing, when it takes place in a given precinct, results in an increase both in reported turnout and in the incumbent's vote share. Consequently, such fraudulent precinct moves in turnout distribution towards its right tail. Hence, precincts with relatively low reported turnout are more likely to be clean. Using the information on relatively clean precincts, it is possible to simulate counterfactual data for infected precincts and compare them with the observed data. The extra advantage of an incumbent over the runner-up in precincts with high reported turnout in comparison to precincts with low turnout then implies incidences of ballot stuffing. The method is first piloted on artificial and artificially fraudulent real data, and subsequently applied to test the fairness of the Russian executive elections held between 2000 and 2012, in which transparency and integrity were dubious. Results strongly reject the hypothesis of an absence of ballot stuffing and demonstrate that electoral fraud in Russia has been growing significantly over the last twelve years, providing an additional support to the idea of growing fraud in non-democracies presented in the second dissertation chapter.

Full Text: “Essays on Electoral Fraud” by Dmitriy Vorobyev