Evidence of Iranian Vote Fraud?

It’s pretty hard to assess voter fraud from afar, especially given the reality that most Americans tend to presume the worst about regimes we don’t like. I’m not suggesting that foreign correspondents are making things up, but I will say that Ahmadenijad has already been found guilty in the court of American columnists.

But let’s run down what we do know.

The reason tampering is on everyone’s minds to begin with is, in the weeks leading up to the election, top Ahmadenijad challenger Mir-Hossein Mousavi was gaining ground, and even surpassing the incumbent president in some polls.

Here’s a run-down of some such polls, from FiveThirtyEight.com:

Now, as 538’s Renard Sexton cautions, these polls were conducted with somewhat dubious methodology, by American standards, and there may have been some push-polling going on. Nevertheless, as the numbers of undecided voters waned, support for Mousavi grew, which is not out of the ordinary for a surging challenger.

One thing you’ll notice immediately is that not a single poll has Ahmadenijad anywhere close to the 62 percent share he earned on election day. In fact he only reached the 50 percent plateau needed to avoid a run-off in one.

So this is the initial basis for skepticism. Again, doesn’t prove a thing, but it should certainly raise eyebrows.

Another oddity is that the numbers were shockingly similar at each new report, which is to say Ahmadenijad would have, say, 62.6 percent at first check, 62.3 percent at the next check, and so forth. (Yes, I’m making those numbers up, but you get the idea.)

FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver did some checking, though, against the Obama/McCain election.

While he found that Ahmadenijad did indeed have an extremely linear vote count throughout the night (graph), so too did our own election (graph). The statistical significance for the Iranian election line was .998 (near-perfect) and that of the U.S. election was .996 (also pretty damn good). So, again, it certainly looks questionable, but doesn’t prove fraud.

Juan Cole, something of an expert in Middle East culture and policy, provided an excellent overview of the remaining evidence that has surfaced since:

1. 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. …

2. 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. …

3. It is claimed that cleric Mehdi Karoubi, the other reformist candidate, received 320,000 votes, and that he did poorly in Iran’s western provinces, even losing in Luristan. He is a Lur and is popular in the west, including in Kurdistan. Karoubi received 17 percent of the vote in the first round of presidential elections in 2005. While it is possible that his support has substantially declined since then, it is hard to believe that he would get less than one percent of the vote. Moreover, he should have at least done well in the west, which he did not.

4. Mohsen Rezaie, who polled very badly and seems not to have been at all popular, is alleged to have received 670,000 votes, twice as much as Karoubi.

5. Ahmadinejad’s numbers were fairly standard across Iran’s provinces. In past elections there have been substantial ethnic and provincial variations.

6. The Electoral Commission is supposed to wait three days before certifying the results of the election, at which point they are to inform Khamenei of the results, and he signs off on the process. The three-day delay is intended to allow charges of irregularities to be adjudicated. In this case, Khamenei immediately approved the alleged results.

Now, if some or all of the above is true, it’s awfully hard to take Ahmadinejad at his word. No. 5 is especially damning. The poor showing of the fringe candidates also casts some doubt over the whole thing (if you were going to steal votes, would you take votes from the popular challenger or the ones no one will notice are missing?). However, I would caution that candidates who don’t have a chance to win often receive less support on election day than they might in polling. Turnout understandably suffers when victory isn’t a possibility.

I’d highly recommend reading the rest of Juan Cole’s take. He has a pretty interesting conspiracy theory as to what went down. And I know the very mention of conspiracy theories elicits pretty intense skepticism, but in a country where voter fraud is a very real possibility, conspiracy theories don’t seem all that out of the question, do they?

A final note: Mousavi’s supporters certainly believe there was some wrongdoing. And they certainly look like they might have the numbers to prove it.


2 Responses to “Evidence of Iranian Vote Fraud?”

  1. 1 danup June 15, 2009 at 10:39 pm

    Your blog needs a Facebook-y like this feature, so I don’t have to write “this is an excellent take” every time you have an excellent take on an issue.

    I can buy Ahmadinejad’s victory, and did, at first, but the baggage surrounding it makes me hopeful that Iran as a whole is less enamored of the man than Andy Samberg in that Digital Short.

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About the Author

Brian Eason is a University of Missouri graduate with bachelor degrees in Journalism and Political Science. He has covered Congressional elections and local government for the Columbia Missourian and worked as a general assignment reporter for the State Journal-Register in Springfield, IL. Brian has also had articles published in Roll Call.

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