Can Number-Crunching Reveal Whether Iran's Election Was Rigged?

By Allison Bond | June 22, 2009 11:40 am

NumbersThere’s something fishy going on with the vote counts from Iran’s recent election, according to two political scientists from Columbia University. In fact, they argue that the figures released by the Iranian government reveal that the election was fixed.

The political scientists did a little number-crunching; they examined, for example, the last two digits of the vote counts that the Iranian government released, which included 29 of the nation’s 30 provinces.

The result? The numerical patterns of the vote tallies would be extremely unlikely to occur in a fair election, according to an article in the Washington Post. Here are the article’s main points:

  • In the last two digits of every vote count, you would expect to see each digit (0, 1, 2, 3, etc.) occur about 10 percent of the time. But the digit 5 came up only 4 percent of the time, while the digit 7 appeared a whopping 17 percent of the time. A non-fraudulent election would produce these numerical patterns less than 4 percent of the time.
  • People generate patterns of adjacent numbers more easily than those of non-adjacent numbers (for example, 34 instead of 28 or 47), research has shown. Non-fraudulent elections, of course, have no trouble generating non-adjacent numbers, and you’d expected seven out of 10 pairs to be distinct non-adjacent digits.  But in the Iranian results, only 62 percent of the pairs are like non-adjacent… the chances that an election would naturally produce these results is about a meager 4 percent.
  • The bottom line: There’s only about a 0.5 percent chance that these two types of irregularities would occur in a fair election. That’s one in two hundred elections.

Those definitely aren’t odds we’d like to bet on.

UPDATE: Iran’s Numbers Even Fishier Than Previously Reported

Washington Post : The Devil is In the Digits

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Image: flickr / Pink Sherbet Photography


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