The Associated Press reports from Afghanistan on how the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission will adjust vote totals to account for fraud, which now appears to have been widespread in the August 20, 2009, presidential election. The EEC is sampling ballots to determine the number and rate of fraudulent votes for each candidate. It appears that it has chosen an adjustment method that rewards fraud.
The campaign pitted incumbent President Hamid Karzai against foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, and 33 other candidates. Preliminary results gave Karzai 54% of the vote, which if upheld would eliminate the need for a runoff. The EEC is responsible for auditing the raw votes and responding to complaints about various irregularities. Today’s AP story highlights several problems with the EEC, including confusion about its charter, One of the EEC’s Afghan members resigned because, he alleged, “the three foreigners on the panel — one American, one Canadian and one Dutch national were ‘making all decisions on their own’ without consultation.”
An interesting information quality issue arises because of the way the EEC intends to adjust vote totals based on evidence of fraud gleaned from sampling:
Meanwhile, the head of the commission, Canadian Grant Kippen, said a number of errors of interpretation have slowed or complicated the investigation and partial recount.
The process started a week ago. Officials have finished examining a sampling of suspect ballot boxes, but rulings are likely to take days.
Mr. Kippen acknowledged that the commission had misinterpreted the statistical analysis that would be used to decide what percentage of votes to void for each candidate. He told reporters last week that each candidate would lose votes in proportion to the number of fraudulent ballots cast for them in a sampling of suspect boxes.
Instead, each candidate will lose the same percentages of suspect votes, based on the number of fraudulent ballots found in the sample, Mr. Kippen said Monday.
He said the actual process has not changed and that it is statistically sound, but that confusion stemmed from miscommunication between statisticians who designed the mathematical procedure and commissioners whose role is to determine whether the individual boxes are fraudulent.
This adjustment scheme incentivizes future electoral fraud. There are three general ways the raw votes can be adjusted. First, votes can be adjusted proportional to the rate of fraud detected in the sample. This approach, which treats all cases of fraud the same, is the approach that Kippen says the EEC originally understood it was supposed to use. Penalizing each candidate proportional to the incidence of fraud detected in sampling penalizes candidates proportional to the amount of fraud their side committed. This approach neither deters nor incentivizes fraud. If three candidates competed and received 30%, 20%, and 10% fraudulent votes, respectively, their vote totals would be reduced by 30%, 20%, and 10%.
Second, votes can be adjusted in proportion to the total rate of fraud across all candidates. This is the approach that Kippen now says the EEC will use. It penalizes candidates the same based on the total fraud rate, but this penalty is inversely proportional to the amount of fraud each candidate’s side committed. Thus, the candidate most harmed is the one that engaged in no electoral fraud, and the candidate that benefits the most is the one that committed fraud most widely. As an incentive, this approach signals to future candidates that fraud pays.
Third, votes can be adjusted to disproportionately penalize candidates that commit the most fraud. For example, votes could be subtracted at, say twice the rate of voting fraud detected. This adjustment rule deters fraud by making it electorally painful to those who benefit from it. It has the additional feature of disenfranchising legitimate votes, thereby creating an incentive for honest voters to police their dishonest compatriots.
According to the AP story, voter fraud in the Afghan presidential election will be rewarded, not penalized.