Was the Russian Election Fraudulent?

The Times today published a compelling report of first-hand observations of election fraud in Russia’s recent parliamentary elections. There are mounting protests; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced “serious concerns” about the election and called for a “full investigation of electoral fraud and manipulation.”

But what if those first-hand observations were anomalous? What if the outcome for Vladimir Putin‘s United Russia Party, as disappointing as it was for him, truly represents the will of the Russian people?

A reader named Sergei Burkov, who identifies himself as “ex-head of Google Russia R&D Center” writes in with the following information:

Dear Sirs,

A great Freakonomics story tip:

Russian physicist Sergey Shpilkin managed to statistically analyze the results of the Russian Parliamentary elections, identify fraudulent component, and deduct it, to come up with the estimates of untainted results: Putin’s United Russia got 34%, not 51% as officially reported.

Done the same way as Google identifies (and deducts) fraudulent AdWords clicks and Palantir catches terrorists and money launderers.

I asked Burkov if any of Shpilkin’s findings were in English (the links above are in Russian) — and how the analysis had been done so quickly; the elections were held on Sunday. 

His reply:

No, I don’t think there is an English version yet. He had his software ready. He analyzed past results: esquire.ru/elections when the new results arrived, he just plugged the new numbers in. Raw data is published online in near real time on the website of the official Russian election commission.

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  1. Nanno says:

    These elections were going to be inevitably unfair for a number of reasons.

    here are some examples:
    1. Not all opposition parties were allowed to be registered and participate in the elections.
    2. Only the government, and via that route Putin and his United Russia party, are allowed to broadcast on state-media (opposition parties are not allowed to spread their message).
    3. websites of media, critical of the election process, were shut down or at least one radio station, two news websites, and a NGO.

    The observers sent by the European Union also stated afterwards that (1) there are serious indications that fraudulent ballots were used, (2) the government “inappropriately intervened with the election process” and (3) the organization of the election was not done independently.

    But for me the best part is the following article: http://www.nu.nl/politiek/2669299/rusland-hekelt-verkiezingswaarnemer-sp.html
    unfortunately it is Dutch, so let me explain what it says:

    Prior to the elections European observers were sent to Russia and they expressed two major concerns, which I have noted above, the unequal chances for parties to participate and manipulation of RESULTS (so AFTER voting). So basically they were saying that it would be unfair both prior and after the people had voted.

    Now what did the Russians do when they were confronted with these allegations?

    they sued the observers for “expressing critics on on-going elections” which isn’t allowed BY LAW in Russia.

    Again, you are Not Allowed, by law, to express critics on ongoing elections….

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  2. Elena says:

    Of course it was fraudulent. How can anyone doubt it?!

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  3. Oleg Eterevsky says:

    Sadly, even not taking into account the concerns mentioned by Nanno, these elections were far from being fair.

    Another purely statistical analysis of the elections result is presented on the following graph: http://trv-science.ru/uploads/er.gif The horizontal axis represents the percentage of registered voters in a given district that participated in the elections, and the vertical axis is for the percentage of votes for a given party. The blue dots represent United Russia and the green ones — all the other parties combined. This is based on the officially published data. Basically, the most obvious explanation is that in the most fraudulent districts not only all the votes of the citizens that haven’t come to the elections were counted towards UR, but also most of the votes for other parties were ignored and also added to UR.

    I actually worked on these elections as an observer. My election precinct was actually relatively fair one. I suspect that the percentage of the fraudulent votes on it was no more than 10%. All of them were due to the people who were registered at several addresses and were payed for moving from one precinct to another and vote on each one. (This method is called “carousel” in Russia.) Unfortunately, I couldn’t do much to prevent this because there were no means to prove that a given person already voted.

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  4. BT says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  5. IE says:

    Google Translator does a decent job of translating these pages to English. Here is a brief overview:

    In most countries the distribution of the vote turnout by precinct more or less follows the bell curve (first chart at http://esquire.ru/elections show distribution for elections in Mexico, Poland, Bulgaria and Sweden). Russian election turnout distribution has a significant skew to the right, giving some support to the theory that some precincts have extremely high percentage of fraudulent ballots. Second chart at http://esquire.ru/elections shows that this skew has been growing in 2003-2008, presumably because the ruling party increasingly relies on this technique to keep itself in power.

    It’s not a great surprise that the precincts with high turnout are the same precincts where the distribution of the votes is heavily skewed towards the ruling party United Russia (“EP”). The first chart at http://podmoskovnik.livejournal.com/129843.html plots distribution of the votes EP received in Dec 4th elections (blue line) vs. the turnout. The higher the turnout, the greater the percentage of United Russia votes. The author attempts to break down EP votes into “normal” (light blue line) and “abnormal” (red line) components. Green line is the total votes for all other parties.

    Another piece of evidence suggesting that something is not right is that the results are dramatically different in some neighboring precincts: http://www.echo.msk.ru/blog/varfolomeev/836376-echo/
    This might be normal for US elections, where demographics can change dramatically when you cross a street, but it has never been the case in Moscow.

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  6. Doug Schaedler says:

    The investigation of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) could be very interesting in as much as the results seem strangely tied to influence rather then skillful results demonstrated on the playing field.

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  7. Russian Queen says:

    I would not be surprised. I once taught a class to a bunch of Russian students. They hardly spoke English. Indeed, a few relied on translations by others in the class. Well, exam day and the senior member of the crew (a Russian md by profession) obviously used the situation to cheat and there was no way of my knowing/verifying one way or the other. I just refused to tolerate talking during an exam. He came close to failing and I never got called back to teach again. Apparently, the school was aghast. Cheating by an esteemed student was ok. So as I said, I would not be surprised. . I learned alot about our culture differences. The thing is- they just see things differently. Who knew?

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    • Alex P says:

      I wouldn’t judge so bluntly about the whole population by one example. I’m a russian, and, although, I admit there are a lot of crocks and people who inclined to cheat, it doesn’t mean that russians see things differently.
      By the way, I’m studying right now in the UK with classmates from 38 different countries, and, despite cultural differences, people in out class treat cheating as horrible act. It’s just humiliating to read that ‘they see things differently’. No we don’t. Some people do, but it doesn’t automatically mean that everybody does so.

      Regarding the elections, article publish in esquire, although based on preceding elections, is amazing and exactly elicit the reasons people took the streets after elections. Just try google translate to read http://esquire.ru/elections. It’s worth it!

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  8. caleb b says:

    Eh, I’ve seen worse.

    The Sri Lankan incombent president won over his challanger by a reported margin that defies all logic, and his opponent (Fonseka) lost his own home town by 3 to 1. Then, Fonseka was thrown in prison right after the election and remains there today.

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