Political Scientists Analyze Vulnerability of Argentine National Elections

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Outdated voting methodology leaves results vulnerable to tampering, say elections experts, drawing on their research in Political Analysis.

Sunday, October 27th will mark the 2013 national legislative elections in Argentina. A primary in August revealed closely contested races across the country; better-than-expected showings for parties in opposition to two-term President Kirchner’s Front for Victory party have led commentators to call this moment “the beginning of the end of the Kirchner era.” These razor’s-edge elections are at the same time highly vulnerable to manipulation by the main political parties, as explained by U.C. San Diego political scientists Sebastián M. Saiegh and Francisco Cantú:

"Argentina’s voting system is quite outdated. Citizens vote with slips of paper that carry the names only of a given party’s candidates, like the coupon ballots used in the nineteenth-century United States. Each political party prints, distributes and supplies its own ballots during Election Day. This voting “technology” allows party operatives to potentially condition any benefits (or punishments) targeted to individual voters on their receipt of the party printed ballot. It also implies that political parties often require thousands of poll-watchers to avoid ballot theft and to monitor the count in each of the polling stations. Therefore, the existing system tends to favor incumbents as well as political parties with territorial outreach and resources, namely president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s Front for Victory (Frente para la Victoria/FPV), the Peronist Party (Partido Justicialista/PJ) and the Radical Civic Union (Unión Cívica Radical/UCR)."

Argentina has a checkered electoral history; most notably, in the 1930s (known as the Infamous Decade), the ruling party engaged in outright voter suppression and fraud in order to keep opposition parties out of power. Saiegh and Cantú, whose work analyzes vote counts to predict tampering, note that such outright manipulation would be unlikely to occur nowadays given modern election monitoring capabilities, but that tampering nevertheless can and does still occur across the globe.

Sebastián M. Saiegh is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, San Diego. Francisco Cantú is a Ph.D. candidate, also in the Department of Political Science. Together they are the authors of "Fraudulent Democracy? An Analysis of Argentina's Infamous Decade Using Supervised Machine Learning," published 2011 in Political Analysis, which presents an innovative method to diagnose electoral fraud using vote counts.

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Owen Keiter
Oxford University Press
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