Mark Blumenthal | June 22, 2009
In addition to the turmoil and tragedy in Iran over the weekend, there were two new notable analyses of the official turnout, plus one bizarre concession by the ruling Guardian Council. Let's start with a review of the analyses:
- Last week, we pointed to an analysis (pdf) by American political scientist Walter Mebane (explained further here). He used the county and city-level vote data from the two rounds of Iran's 2005 election to try to model the 2009 result. The underlying idea is to see whether the town-by-town variation in Ahmadenijad's vote in 2005 predicts the town-by-town variation in 2009. He found that his model did not "describe" the vote well in 192 of 320 towns and that, in 172 of those, Ahmadenijad's vote looks suspiciously high. [Update: Mebane has updated his analysis based on new ballot box data for 23 of 30 provinces showing "evidence of signiﬁcant distortions in the vote counts not only for Karroubi and Rezaei but also for Ahmadinejad" - more here].
- Over the weekend, Alex Scacco and Bernd Beber, graduate students at Columbia University,** published analyses in the last two digits in reported 2009 vote totals, on the theory that the distribution of these digits should be totally random. The found suspicious patterns suggestive of fraud in the provincial-level data but not in what they describe as county-level data. Their theory is that provincial level data were fabricated and that the "leading digits" of the county-level data subsequently manipulated to match fraudulent provincial totals (which would have required minimal tampering with the last two digits of most counties -- R analysis code and data here, via Monkey Cage).
- Yesterday, the British think-tank Chatham House published an analysis of the provincial level data co-authored by academics at the Institute of Iranian Studies at the University of St. Andrews. They found irregularities in turnout -- including two provinces showing "a turnout of over 100%" -- and patterns they found implausible in the supposedly new votes cast for Ahmadenijad in 2009. Note that while the Mebane and Scacco-Beber analyses were mostly statistical, the Chatam House analysis is more steeped in the authors' expertise in recent Iranian political history.
But perhaps most telling was this statement yesterday from the Iran's ruling Guardian Council yesterday as published by Iranian state television:
Iran's Guardian Council has suggested that the number of votes collected in 50 cities surpass the number of people eligible to cast ballot in those areas.
The council's Spokesman Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei, who was speaking on the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) Channel 2 on Sunday, made the remarks in response to complaints filed by Mohsen Rezaei -- a defeated candidate in the June 12 Presidential election.
"Statistics provided by the candidates, who claim more than 100% of those eligible have cast their ballot in 80-170 cities are not accurate -- the incident has happened in only 50 cities," Kadkhodaei said.
Kadkhodaei further explained that the 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.
To put this in perspective, that's 50 of over 300 cities in which turnout exceeded 100% of the eligible voters. So the statement truly pushes the boundaries of "spin," or as Nate Silver puts it, "Worst. Damage Control. Ever." Nate says they are admitting to "some fraud" just not "11 million votes worth of fraud," though I'm not sure I would go that far. Kadkhodaei claims that the pattern is a "normal phenomenon," since it is legal for Iranian's to vote outside their home provinces. Still, it's quite a stretch.
Consider the update from the Chatam House authors (see p. 2) that their "results are not significantly affected" by the Guardian Council statement:
Whilst it is possible for large numbers of voters to cast their ballots outside their home district (one of 366), the proportion of people who would have cast their votes outside their home province is much smaller, as the 30 provinces are too large for effective commuting across borders. In Yazd, for example, where turnout was above 100% at provincial level, there are no significant population centres near provincial boundaries.
Note also that they found, separately, that the increase in turnout in 2009 "results in substantially less variation in turnout between provinces, with the standard deviation amongst provincial turnouts falling by just over 23% since 2005." So the Guardian Council's argument is that out-of-province voting was great enough to cause turnout beyond 100% of eligibility in 50 towns and 2 provinces, yet the Chatham House analysis shows less variability across provinces than in 2005. That's quite a pattern.
Update: Josh Tucker has more on the Kadkhodaei statement.
**The original version of this post misstated Scacco and Beber's academic affiliation - see the comment from Andrew Therriault.