Digital Cameras Reduce Electoral Corruption

Elections in developing countries commonly fail to deliver accountability because of manipulation, often involving collusion between corrupt election offcials and political candidates. We report the results of an experimental evaluation of Quick Count Photo Capture—a monitoring technology designed to detect the illegal sale of votes by corrupt election offcials to candidates—carried out in 471 polling centers across Afghanistan during the 2010 parliamentary elections. The intervention reduced vote counts by 25% for the candidate most likely to be buying votes and reduced the stealing of election materials by about 60%.

From a new paper by Michael Callen and James Long.  Find it here.  A write-up in Slate is here.  This did not stop candidates from finding other ways to cheat, of course.  From Slate:

Of course, with one avenue of electoral fraud shut down, candidates determined to circumvent the democratic process turned to other forms of cheating. Indeed, complaints of voting irregularities, such as candidates claiming that their supporters’ votes were somehow unrecorded or invalidated, were higher at polling stations where station managers knew they’d get camera audits.

Politicians can also adapt in other ways:

Before we get too excited about smartphones as the savior of democracy, it’s worth remembering that corrupt candidates were able to deploy alternative tactics even on very short notice, in the hours after the monitors delivered their warning letters. If something like Callen and Long’s procedure became the norm, powerful candidates might simply persuade the government to prevent the photographing of results, or to stop posting them at all. In fact, at the end of the day, democracy advocates may worry that photo audits may simply shift power from small-time candidates to big-time ones that are best able to find alternative forms of vote manipulation. We’ll find out when electronic monitoring makes its next appearance at Afghan polling stations.

Still, very interesting.  For more on other experimental studies of electoral fraud, see this post.

[Hat tip to Luke Condra and Rebecca Musarra]

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