Election Observation Missions (EOMs) in general, don’t receive enough attention from the academic and policy communities. Not no attention of course, but very little when we consider how important they are. Maybe it’s because by their very nature, EOMs are assumed to be another method of data collection to build other assessments off of. […]
Libyan Election Posters
Though it’s been over two months since I returned form a work trip to Libya, I thought I would finally get around to posting some election-related photos I took. Luckily for me, people seem to leave their campaign posters up well after the election, which gives me a random, non representative sample of the type of campaigning done before the GNC election in July. If anybody can add any context to these pictures, or wants to make any corrections, please do so in the comments section. They would be much appreciated.
Most of these pictures were taking in the Hay Andalus district of Tripoli. An upper class neighborhood, Hay Andalus, like most constituencies, had an individual and proportional tier. The proportional tier was given three seats, though shared with several other areas. Hay Andalus also had it’s own Single Non Transferable Vote (SNTV) tier, of three seats. SNTV systems are notorious for creating weak parties, as well as creating the highest incentive for candidates to cultivate a personal vote. This is in part because the margin of victory needed for a seat is usually very small. In this district, there were 136 candidates competing for three seats. The three top candidates ended up receiving 12,099, 8851, and 6,807 votes respectively.
This pillar was covered with mostly individual candidates, though the purple poster in the middle is for the Salafi’s Al Watan Party. Despite high expectations, Al-Watan won no seats nationally, and came in fifth place in this district (only 3,992 votes, while as a comparison, the National Forces Alliance took just over 30,000).
It wasn’t uncommon to see candidate posters with faces scrapped off, like those below. I’m guessing this was either vandalism from individual Salafis (note above, that the main Salafi party still used a female face in one of it’s own ads), or just someone expressing dissatisfaction with politicians in general. Or I’m reading too much into this and it was simply some punk kids.
The next two photos are ads for the Union For Homeland Party (الاتحاد من اجل الوطن). The Union won two seats overall and came in seventh place in Hay Andalus, with 2,703 votes. The slogan used in these posters says “New Libya, new faces” which matches the imagery used in the posters. The Union’s leader, Abdul Rahman Swehli from Misrata, was a dissident during Qaddafi’s rule, and advocates and entirely new system that is purged of officials from the old regime. This is relevant as many current figures, even liberal ones such as Mohamed Jibril and Ali Zeidan, have served in Qaddafi’s government at some point in their careers (even though they became opponents).
A billboard for the Justice and Construction Party (حزب العدالة والبناء), which is the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing in Libya. The party finished with the second most party list seats, though significantly less than the secular National Forces Alliance. Justice and Construction (abbreviated by their Arabic acronym, AB) used the horse imagery in most advertisements I saw.
This was a small sticker for the National Forces Alliance (تحالف القوى الوطنية), of Mohamed Jibril, which won the most party list seats out of any organization. I actually saw more billboards and signs for them around Martyrs’ Square and on a few highways, but never in a situation where I could take a photo.
I saw several posters, such as this one for Wafa Al-Sharif, that displayed affiliation with the National Party for Development and Welfare, led by now-Prime Minster Ali Zeidan. (Zedian was elected as an independent in Jufra). This appears to be a party-list poster as there is no mention of candidate number and I couldn’t find Al-Sharif’s name in the district results. It is interesting to see the party emphasizing candidates on their closed party list ads, whereas the Justice and Construction Party took the opposite approach. The party managed to get one party list seat nationally while finishing in 17th place where this picture was taken. The poster was on a main highway, however, so it was likely to have targeted voters throughout Tripoli.
Sign for a candidate running in the SNTV tier.
Here are two signs for the National Movement for Justice and Development. Another party-list ad, these two signs indicate that the party chose to have a women lead their list in this district. There were only three open seats in this district and parties were forced to stagger their lists by gender, as well as placing women at the top of half of their lists nationally.
People in Misrata were unfortunately better at taking their campaign posters down after the election, but I did manage to get this of a candidate, who finished in 63rd out of 117 candidates. Misrata also used SNTV for it’s candidate-based tier, though with a district magnitude of four.
Predictions: Egyptian presidential election
The first round of Egypt’s presidential election is tomorrow, which means it’s time for everybody to make their predictions. I think the biggest story of late has been the surprise surge of former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq. I say surprise, although an Egyptian friend has been predicting his success for some time now. It’s difficult to get a handle on the race because the polling has been rather erratic. With that being said, I think it’s possible to analyze some of the polls and make some comments.
I created a poll of polls, using Al Masry Al Youm’s and Al-Ahram’s weekly surveys. I chose these two because they were the only ones to be released at nearly identical times for seven weeks.
A couple thoughts and random speculations on these numbers:
The two sets of surveys had some notable differences. Al Masry Al Youm’s had a far higher number of undecided voters (It would have been nice to know how the questions were worded). Al-Ahram, on the other hand, gave a slight edge to several candidates, most notably, Amr Moussa. In fact, Moussa polled on average 23 points higher in Al-Ahram polls than Masry’s. It looks like Al-Ahram was pushing respondents harder to make a decision, as its lower undecided number produced higher numbers for every major candidate. The fact that Moussa gained so much from this group, could indicate that a lot of the support we see for him in these surveys is not solidified, or even committed to voting. This would support the narrative that from the beginning, Moussa was largely running so strong due to name recognition.
People aren’t that undecided. One of the most notable aspects of these polls is the high number of undecideds in the race. Al-Masry Al-Youm even has 33 percent of all voters listed as undecided in their last poll. The thing is, the surveys also have a very high number of people claiming they will vote. In fact, the last poll shows that 87 percent of all registered voters will turn out. Voter turnout models are hard, US pollsters still struggle with it, but these firms still need a better screen. Turnout in the recent parliamentary polls was around 54 percent. The difference between those two numbers (87 and 54) is roughly the number of undecideds in their poll. I’m definitely not claiming that all the undecideds did not vote in the last election, and will not vote in this one. But I do think it’s safe to assume that opinions are a bit more solidified at this stage in the race. We probably shouldn’t speculate about where this mass number of undecideds will go. They might not go anywhere.
Shafiq’s surge is real. According the poll of polls, Shafiq is in second place with 21 percent of the vote. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsy and Hamdeen Sabahi are also enjoying small surges, although remain far behind. Shafiq was smart in having a strong ground operation and playing to his base. He probably also took note of the brief surge of Omr Suleiman, which showed that their was a constituency for a law and order candidate. Shafiq didn’t try to straddle several social cleavages (like Moussa and Fotouh), he just built a base within one group and developed a clear message.
We get to see if in Egypt, the Party decides. Morsy is enjoying a late surge but still looks like he will fall short of the top two. This seems like a great opportunity to really see the strength of the Brotherhood’s ground operation. Morsy doesn’t have the personal popularity of other candidates. If he alone polls far better than the surveys indicated, we can probably infer a lot about the MB’s grassroots strength.
Final Predictions: Shafiq and Moussa win the first round, although a strong possibility that it will be Shafiq and Morsy.
Electoral Choice and Ballot Complexity: Effects on Turnout
Work has been a little hectic lately, so the blogging has been light of late. I do plan on resuming a more consistent schedule soon, however. Before diving back in the Egypt numbers, however, I wanted to highlight two very good papers I saw presented at APSA several months ago.
When advising on electoral system design, election assistance practitioners often recommend that developing countries implement simple systems that their voters will be able to understand. While the theory behind this is sound, I’ve always wondered if we were overestimating the impact of ballot complexity. After all, I’m sure many Americans aren’t aware that many of their city council races are MNTV, while their congressional race is FPTP, yet our system still functions. In two papers that actually attempt to answer this question, Aina Gallego of Stanford University and Saul Cunow of UCSD both looked at what impact various electoral variables have on voter turnout. Aina argued that increases in ballot complexity, while not impacting educated voters, has a negative effect on turnout rates of less educated citizens. Aina used two strategies to test her hypothesis. For the first, she conducted a field experiment where she sent several fake ballot questions to a random group of Spanish citizens. The control group was given a straightforward ballot containing descriptions of candidates and which party they belonged to, and then asked to vote for one. The second group was given the same list, but was asked to vote for up to five. The second group had a 12 percent drop in responses from low-educated citizens. For her second strategy, she ran a cross-national regression of electoral system design by turnout among various demographics and found that controlling for other factors, increased preference votes were associated with a decrease in turnout.
I had two problems with Aina’s methodology. The first is her field experiment failed to simulate a realistic ballot structure that any voter would encounter. The second is her classification of voting system type was binary (ability to cast preference votes or not) and did not account for the many rules that would significantly impact the level of ballot complexity within preference voting systems. This could include the option of voting across multiple parties, the ability to rank candidates, and the ability to punish candidates on a given party list. Also, her theory is based on the cognitive perceptions of voters before they decide to vote, not on what they actually experience in the voting booth. Invalid ballots are evidence of voters who were unable to handle the ballot, but showed up anyway. Therefore, I would suggest a more realistic measure would be district magnitude, as an increase in candidate choice would, by her theory, intimidate the voter and make them less likely to turnout. Despite these shortcomings, her paper provided a new look at a concept that has been assumed, but never rigorously tested.
Related, Saul Cunow conducted a field experiment in Brazil and found that there is a curvilinear relationship between the number of candidates on a ballot and turnout. That is, at low levels of candidate choice, turnout is low as voters feel they have little options. As the number of choices increases, turnout increases, due to the more choices. After the number of potential candidates increases past a certain level, however, turnout decreases as people are confused by the number of choices and have a harder time distinguishing between them. Saul also finds that the presence of party labels does not reduce the probability of abstention among higher numbers of candidates.
Both are good papers and you should read them.
The other election in Africa this week
Most media attention has been focused on Liberia’s election this week, and with good reason. Also in Africa, however, Cameroon recently held presidential elections on Sunday. Opposition leaders demanded the election be nullified, after Paul Biya was reelected to a sixth term. Biya has ruled Cameroon for 29 years. In 2008, he passed a constitutional amendment, which abolished term limits.
Cameroon’s election wasn’t exactly fair, but what I found interesting was the assessment of what I would have thought to be a legitimate Election Observation Mission (EOM):
But France, which was Cameroon’s former colonial power and played a significant part in Biya’s rise to the helm in 1982, saw no egregious violation in the poll.
“According to the International Organisation of the Francophonie and the Commonwealth, who followed the development of these elections, we can consider that they took place in acceptable conditions,” Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.
If you haven’t already, read Judith Kelley’s great paper, Election Observers and their Biases. It does a great job of exploring the behavior and incentives of EOMs based on a number of criteria. Her main argument is that the assessment of elections is influenced by the mission’s organization, the source of funding, and the host country.
She also discusses the problem that occurs when observers want to reward progress made in a country, but the environment does not warrant a positive assessment. It is in addressing this phenomenon that Kelley notices certain peculiarities in her data. The most striking is the fact that the more violent a pre-election environment is, the more likely observation missions will endorse an otherwise flawed poll. Kelley also touches upon some issues that have been addressed in previous writings, such as the phenomenon where pre-election irregularities are more likely to be ignored by an assessment team than those that occur during the polling process.
I really don’t know Cameroon, or France’s current interest in it, so I’m unsure of if any of these particular findings would explain this strange assessment. But this does fit Susan Hyde’s theory, which concludes that regimes have made the calculation that the presence of election observers has become a signal of democratizing, while the risks of a negative election observation report outweighs the benefits of not inviting any foreign observers. I would say that Paul Biya benefited from allowing an election observation mission, especially one from France.
Internet voting and turnout
Via Election Updates, comes this story out of Virginia,
Many county and state election officials often lament of low voter turnout, but Surry County, Va. is anticipating 100 percent voter turnout for an upcoming Republican Primary — or a zero percent turnout. A quirk in redistricting means that the county will have to open a polling place for one voter for the upcoming primary. It will cost the county approximately $2,000 to open the polling place for the day and even if the lone voter shows up in the early moments of election day, the county must keep the location open till polls officially close across the state. Registrar Lucille Epps said she contacted the Virginia Board of Elections to ask if the lone voter could be sent to the next closest precinct but was told that was not possible.
Paul Gronke astutely adds:
This is a fun and silly story that Mindy Moretti dug up, but there is a very good reason beyond cost that the voter should be sent to another precinct–privacy! Obviously, Registrar Epps can not report returns for this precinct, but notice that the Registrar CAN’T REPORT PRECINCT LEVEL RETURNS FOR THE OTHER PRECINCTS EITHER, because a simple calculation will reveal the single voter’s choices.
This is a good point, and I wonder about it in a few other contexts. In Norway, for example, the country will be piloting an internet voting system for ten municipalities in their upcoming September local elections. If internet turnout matches that of Estonia’s first trial with i-voting, i-voters would be somewhere around 2 percent. Combine that with the low number of people per municipality, and the low number who vote in local elections, and it’s somewhat possible that you could have an extremely small number of internet voters per area. Maintaining transparency requires the government to post who voted via each method (paper ballot, early voting, internet) as well as the results for each method, so there could be a theoretical risk of being able to identify internet voters’ decisions. In most cases this isn’t that big of a risk, but it’s just a reminder of the many things that have to be considered when developing such a complex system.
Presidential elections in Sao Tome and Principe
Manuel Pinto da Costa, the former one-party ruler of Sao Tome and Principe, captured enough votes last Sunday to move on to the second round of the country’s presidential election. Costa, who is running as an independent candidate, will face Parliamentary speaker Evaristo de Carvalho in the runoff. Costa ruled Sao Tome and Principe from the country’s 1975 independence from Portugal, to 1990. Carvalho, a former prime minister, is the candidate of the Independent Democratic Action (ADI) party, which won last year’s parliamentary election. The runoff will be held on August 7.
Internet Voting in Estonia
I have a new post over at ElectionGuide.org detailing the upcoming election in Estonia. It’s a basic rundown of the election that discusses, among other things, Estonia’s innovative Internet voting system. I think it’s a fair question to ask if anybody really needs internet voting, and if the potential costs are really worth anything gained. Regardless of the answer to that, I believe Estonia has done an impressive job of making their system as secure and safe as can be. Take, for example, their solution to the problem of vote buying. The privacy of a voting booth, if executed correctly, can destroy much of the potential for vote buying. This is because it makes it difficult for a vote-buyer to verify how a ballot was actually cast. (Yes there are ways around this, that’s why I said “if executed correctly”). This protection would be lost with the ability to vote from anywhere at anytime. Estonia, however, has found a solution to this.
To address this problem, Estonian officials came up with an innovative solution: an elector can cast as many internet votes as they like in the allotted timeframe, but only the last vote will count. In addition, an elector may still cast a paper ballot on election day, which will void all previous votes cast through the internet. This setup destroys the incentive for a vote buyer to purchase a vote, as they have no guarantee that the voter cannot simply change it at a later time
I would also add that this goes above and beyond the state of Washington, which votes entirely by mail, and is theoretically subject to the same level of vote buying.