Monday, July 13, 2009

Iran: fraud claims and counter-claims analyzed

June 19, 2009
Iran elections: fraud claims and counter-claims analyzed

Out of boredom, I thought it would be fun to keep track of the various claims about how the elections in Iran were supposedly stolen or fraudulent, versus their counter-arguments - please add to the list if you can, since I haven't been keeping track of all the claims and counter-claims.

[As a side note: Before you automatically and unthinkingly assume that there was election fraud in Iran, ask yourself: WHY? was Mousavi, the opposition leader -- and a former Prime Minister and very much a supporter of the revolution -- such a threat to the system that they had to resort to election fraud? No, sorry, he isn't.]


"It is claimed that Ahmadinejad won the city of Tabriz with 57%. His main opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, is an Azeri from Azerbaijan province, of which Tabriz is the capital. Mousavi, according to such polls as exist in Iran and widespread anecdotal evidence, did better in cities and is popular in Azerbaijan. Certainly, his rallies there were very well attended. So for an Azeri urban center to go so heavily for Ahmadinejad just makes no sense." (Juan Cole)


"But Ahmadinejad himself speaks Azeri quite fluently as a consequence of his eight years serving as a popular and successful official in two Azeri-majority provinces; during the campaign, he artfully quoted Azeri and Turkish poetry — in the original — in messages designed to appeal to Iran’s Azeri community. (And we should not forget that the supreme leader is Azeri.) The notion that Mousavi was somehow assured of victory in Azeri-majority provinces is simply not grounded in reality." (Leveretts)


"Ahmadinejad is claimed to have taken Tehran by over 50%. Again, he is not popular in the cities, even, as he claims, in the poor neighborhoods, in part because his policies have produced high inflation and high unemployment." (Juan Cole)


Ahmadinejad won the province of Tehran, not the city of Tehran. Anyway, he was the mayor of Tehran and won there in 2005 too.


"Ahmadinejad's numbers were fairly standard across Iran's provinces. In past elections there have been substantial ethnic and provincial variations." (Juan Cole)

"Statistically and mathematically, it is impossible to maintain such perfect linear relations between the votes of any two candidates in any election — and at all stages of vote counting. This is particularly true about Iran, a large country with a variety of ethnic groups who usually vote for a candidate who is ethnically one of their own." (Tehran Bureau)

"They didn't even attempt to disguise the fraud. Which, to me, tells me they panicked. This graph is a red flag to Iran and the world." (Andrew SUllivan)


The apparently extremely strong relationship is mostly an artifact of the exceptionally simple fact that as you count more votes, both candidates' totals will tend to increase. (

[T]hese figures, though they may seem eerily consistent at first glance, are actually just what we would expect. That's the nature of large batches of data, governed by what's called the Law of Large Numbers: Averages of widely varying quantities can, and usually do, yield results that look almost perfectly uniform. Given enough data, the outliers tend to cancel one another out. (Jordan Ellenberg)


"If Ahmadinejad had really won, then why the crack down on dissidents, cutting off international communications and filtering Facebook? "


This is more of a rhetorical question than an argument. Perfectly valid reasons exist for security measures following a hotly-disputed election especially when you add in the tense international situation, what with talk of "regime change" and all. Add rioting to the mix too.


Ahmadinejad is responsible for bad economic policies that have driven up inflation, increased unemployment, increased poverty, and so people could not have possibly voted for him.


"The belief that Iran suffers from dire economic conditions is one of four myths circulating about Iran's macroeconomic performance. Iran's economy has actually performed well in aggregate terms, with a moderate rate of growth in the last ten to fifteen years, including healthy GDP and per capita growth in investment. In the last three years, Iran's actual growth rate has averaged 5.8 percent." (Kelly Campbell, U.S. Institute of Peace)

"Lucky for Mr. Ahmadinejad, there are good reasons to doubt that poverty has been on the rise...Another comparison, based on the absolute poverty lines defined on the basis of the $2 per day standard, shows the opposite: that poverty rates have declined slightly during 2005-06." (Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, Brookings Institute)

"There is no shortages of complaints one can have about Iran’s economy (high youth unemployment, high inflation, and stagnant productivity, to name a few) , but a low standard of living is not one of them. "(Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, Brookings Institute)

"The International Monetary Fund projects that Iran’s economy will actually grow modestly this year (when the economies of most Gulf Arab states are in recession). A significant number of Iranians — including the religiously pious, lower-income groups, civil servants and pensioners — appear to believe that Ahmadinejad’s policies have benefited them. And, while many Iranians complain about inflation, the TFT poll found that most Iranian voters do not hold Ahmadinejad responsible." (Leveretts)

(I would add to this: I'm no economist but I think inflation rates go up because of increased government spending under Ahmadinejad in part as a result of benefits and subsidies that went mostly to the poor -- something for which he was widely criticized by economists in Iran.)


It is impossible to have counted all the votes in the short time between the closing of the polls and the announcement of Ahmadinejad's victory.


"During the election, there were about 47,000 polling stations for voting. For each station, every candidate was allowed to have a representative present to oversee the process... When the voting ended at 11 pm, they immediately started counting. Once they had the final tallies at each station, the representatives were made to sign off on them, and the numbers were fed into a centrally computerized system where the tallies were collected.

Now, if you divide 39 million votes by 47,000 stations, it comes to 893 votes per station on average. This is a very small number of ballots that can easily be counted in a short period of time." (Huffington Post interview with Iranian cleric)

"The counting mechanism is simple: Iran has 47,000 voting stations, plus 14,000 roaming stations that travel from tiny village to tiny village, staying there for a short time before moving on. That creates 61,000 ballot boxes designed to receive roughly the same number of votes. That would mean that each station would have been counting about 500 ballots, or about 70 votes per hour. With counting beginning at 10 p.m., concluding seven hours later does not necessarily indicate fraud or anything else." (Stratfor)


A spokesman for Iran's authoritative Guardian Council has admitted that voter turnout in the country's July 12 presidential election exceed 100 percent in as many as 50 cities


"Voter turnout of above 100% in some cities is a normal phenomenon because there is no legal limitation for people to vote for the presidential elections in another city or province to which people often travel or commute." (Press TV)

"In an interview with the special news section of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting's [state broadcaster] Channel II on Thursday night, [Iranian Interior Minister] Sadeq Mahsuli said that the increase in the votes in some of the country's cities against the limit of the eligible voters is quite natural and it has also happened in the past. He added: In 48 cities, the number of voters was higher than the number of those eligible to vote and this was due to employment or education related emigration and holiday trips.

He pointed out that in some of these cities where there were surplus votes, the votes for the rival candidate was higher than the elected candidate and added: The number of voters in Shemiranat [area in north Tehran] were thirteen times higher than the eligible voters in this region and one of the candidates achieved votes twice of the elected candidate and the figure of thirteen times higher participation by the people on holiday in this region appears quite normal. The interior minister stated that the number of eligible voters was announced based on the places in the country where birth certificates were issued and added: This is in spite of the fact that a great percentage of people have left their place of residence because of employment, education and holidays and even in the previous elections, we had up to 800 times the number of eligible voters in some cities. Mahsuli explained that on the whole, 184,734 people out of 100 per cent of the eligible voters have voted over the limit in 48 cities and specified: In a province such as Yazd, at least 30 per cent of the population, meaning more than 37,000 students and military garrison personnel, consists of non-native individuals whereas the surplus voters in this region only totalled 515." (Resalat, Tehran, in Persian, 27 Jun 09, p. 2, BBC Monitoring Service Jun 30 2009)


A statistical analysis of province-by-province voting in Iran’s June 12 presidential election makes a compelling case for wide-spread fraud in the vote that returned conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power and touched off days of bloody protests in Iran. (Christian Science Monitor)


"Recently, spot analyses by scholars from the University of Michigan and the Royal Institute of International Affairs suggested that this year’s election results are out of line with previous presidential elections. These analyses compare this year’s results with the first round of the 2005 presidential election, when Ahmadinejad and former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani outpolled other candidates to move into a runoff. Viewed through that prism, Ahmadinejad’s 2009 tally seems inflated.

But the comparison is structurally flawed. It is tantamount to arguing that, because Barack Obama won 38 percent of the vote in a competitive, multicandidate caucus in Iowa in January 2008, it is implausible that he could have won 54 percent of that state’s vote in the two-person general election in November. A more appropriate comparison for this year’s results in Iran would be the second round of the 2005 presidential election, when Ahmadinejad trounced Rafsanjani." (Leveretts)

The University of Michigan study relies on Benford's Law but according to the Carter Center which has monitored more than 70 elections around the world:

In short, Benford's Law does not generally apply to electoral data and even in cases where we suspect that it might apply, we find that it does not. All in all, Benford's Law seems like a very weak instrument for detecting voting fraud. There are many reasons to believe that it does not apply to electoral data, and empirical tests suggest that deviations from the law are not necessarily indicative of fraud.


Karroubi, one of the candidates, scored very low in the polls -- lower than expected.


He also admitted on TV during his debates with Ahmadinejad to accepting $300,000 payment from Shahram Jazayeri, a shadowy figure involved in a number of recent financial scandals in Iran. (PressTV)


"In his letter released on Saturday [20 June], Musavi had cited seven accounts of abnormalities in the election process and asked the Guardian Council, the body tasked with overseeing the election, to "cancel the election nationwide."

Musavi said the "sealing of ballot boxes before the voting in most polling stations, shortage of ballot papers and limited voting time" were among the reasons he objected to the results of the election." (Press TV website, Tehran, in English 1807 23 Jun 09)


"The Interior Ministry however rejected the claims, saying that his letter 'contains apparent contradictions' and includes general cases which 'lack concrete and legal evidence.'

The ministry added that according to the election law, the ballot boxes have to be sealed in the presence of the representatives of the supervisory board before the voting officially starts.

It added that the ministry, however, invited Mr Musavi's representatives to be present and almost all of them were present when the ballot boxes were sealed.

On the shortage of the ballot papers, the ministry argued that it was 'impossible to estimate the exact and correct number of voters in a town or a polling station.' " (Press TV website, Tehran, in English 1807 23 Jun 09)

No comments: