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Concept: Voting system


Internet search rankings have a significant impact on consumer choices, mainly because users trust and choose higher-ranked results more than lower-ranked results. Given the apparent power of search rankings, we asked whether they could be manipulated to alter the preferences of undecided voters in democratic elections. Here we report the results of five relevant double-blind, randomized controlled experiments, using a total of 4,556 undecided voters representing diverse demographic characteristics of the voting populations of the United States and India. The fifth experiment is especially notable in that it was conducted with eligible voters throughout India in the midst of India’s 2014 Lok Sabha elections just before the final votes were cast. The results of these experiments demonstrate that (i) biased search rankings can shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by 20% or more, (ii) the shift can be much higher in some demographic groups, and (iii) search ranking bias can be masked so that people show no awareness of the manipulation. We call this type of influence, which might be applicable to a variety of attitudes and beliefs, the search engine manipulation effect. Given that many elections are won by small margins, our results suggest that a search engine company has the power to influence the results of a substantial number of elections with impunity. The impact of such manipulations would be especially large in countries dominated by a single search engine company.

Concepts: Search engine optimization, Voting, Elections, Election, Democracy, Voting system, Lok Sabha, Voter turnout


Democratic societies are built around the principle of free and fair elections, and that each citizen’s vote should count equally. National elections can be regarded as large-scale social experiments, where people are grouped into usually large numbers of electoral districts and vote according to their preferences. The large number of samples implies statistical consequences for the polling results, which can be used to identify election irregularities. Using a suitable data representation, we find that vote distributions of elections with alleged fraud show a kurtosis substantially exceeding the kurtosis of normal elections, depending on the level of data aggregation. As an example, we show that reported irregularities in recent Russian elections are, indeed, well-explained by systematic ballot stuffing. We develop a parametric model quantifying the extent to which fraudulent mechanisms are present. We formulate a parametric test detecting these statistical properties in election results. Remarkably, this technique produces robust outcomes with respect to the resolution of the data and therefore, allows for cross-country comparisons.

Concepts: Voting, Elections, Election, Voting system, Ballot stuffing, Sortition, Fraud


Nowadays, a large number of countries combine formal democratic institutions with authoritarian practices. Although in these countries the ruling elites may receive considerable voter support, they often use several manipulation tools to control election outcomes. A common practice of these regimes is the coercion and mobilization of large numbers of voters. This electoral irregularity is known as voter rigging, distinguishing it from vote rigging, which involves ballot stuffing or stealing. We develop a statistical test to quantify the extent to which the results of a particular election display traces of voter rigging. Our key hypothesis is that small polling stations are more susceptible to voter rigging because it is easier to identify opposing individuals, there are fewer eyewitnesses, and interested parties might reasonably expect fewer visits from election observers. We devise a general statistical method for testing whether voting behavior in small polling stations is significantly different from the behavior in their neighbor stations in a way that is consistent with the widespread occurrence of voter rigging. On the basis of a comparative analysis, the method enables third parties to conclude that an explanation other than simple variability is needed to explain geographic heterogeneities in vote preferences. We analyze 21 elections in 10 countries and find significant statistical anomalies compatible with voter rigging in Russia from 2007 to 2011, in Venezuela from 2006 to 2013, and in Uganda in 2011. Particularly disturbing is the case of Venezuela, where the smallest polling stations were decisive to the outcome of the 2013 presidential elections.

Concepts: Voting, Elections, Poll, Election, Democracy, Voting system, Ballot stuffing, Voter turnout


CONTEXT:: Major funding cuts have occurred throughout the United States public health system during the past several years. Funding for local public health agency (LPHA) services and programs is obtained through a patchwork of sources that vary both within and among states. Even though local city and county sources provide a significant proportion of funding for LPHAs, information available in the literature about these revenues is sparse and is not clearly described. OBJECTIVE:: This study focused on a single specific revenue stream included in the local sources (local city and county) category: funds voted on directly by the public. The primary purpose of this study was to examine whether this type of funding source provided fiscal advantages for LPHAs. Specifically, we wanted to see how sensitive levy votes were to changing general economic conditions. METHODS:: A questionnaire to collect LPHA levy data was developed, approved, and mailed to county boards of elections in Ohio (n = 88). Elections officials were asked to provide voting results for all LPHA levy ballot attempts since 1994 regardless of outcome. RESULTS:: In the study period (1994 through 2011), 250 LPHA property tax levies were placed on election ballots in Ohio. LPHAs were successful in 155 (62.0%) and unsuccessful in 95 (38.0%) attempts. Over the 18-year period, the most noteworthy outcome was a 94.6% pass rate for renewal levies. CONCLUSION:: Our study demonstrated that voter-approved tax levies provide some fiscal advantages for LPHAs: higher per capita revenues than those who have to rely on other sources of income and predictable revenue streams. This translates into more funds being available for public health programs and services. Property tax levies allow citizens to make direct investments in their local health departments.

Concepts: Health economics, Universal health care, Public health, Health, Voting, Income, Tax, Voting system


Previous research finds that voting is a socially stressful activity associated with increases in cortisol levels. Here we extend this research by investigating whether different voting modalities have differential effects on the stress response to voting. Results from a field experiment conducted during the 2012 presidential elections strongly suggest that traditional “at the polls” voting is more stressful, as measured by increases in cortisol levels, than voting at home by mail-in ballot or engaging in comparable non-political social activities. These findings imply that increased low-stress voting options such as mail-in ballots may increase political participation among individuals who are sensitive to social stressors.

Concepts: Participation, Science, Stress, Voting, Elections, Election, Voting system, Ballot


Hugo Chávez dominated the Venezuelan electoral landscape since his first presidential victory in 1998 until his death in 2013. Nobody doubts that he always received considerable voter support in the numerous elections held during his mandate. However, the integrity of the electoral system has come into question since the 2004 Presidential Recall Referendum. From then on, different sectors of society have systematically alleged electoral irregularities or biases in favor of the incumbent party. We have carried out a thorough forensic analysis of the national-level Venezuelan electoral processes held during the 1998-2012 period to assess these complaints. The second-digit Benford’s law and two statistical models of vote distributions, recently introduced in the literature, are reviewed and used in our case study. In addition, we discuss a new method to detect irregular variations in the electoral roll. The outputs obtained from these election forensic tools are examined taking into account the substantive context of the elections and referenda under study. Thus, we reach two main conclusions. Firstly, all the tools uncover anomalous statistical patterns, which are consistent with election fraud from 2004 onwards. Although our results are not a concluding proof of fraud, they signal the Recall Referendum as a turning point in the integrity of the Venezuelan elections. Secondly, our analysis calls into question the reliability of the electoral register since 2004. In particular, we found irregular variations in the electoral roll that were decisive in winning the 50% majority in the 2004 Referendum and in the 2012 Presidential Elections.

Concepts: Voting, Elections, Election, Referendum, Voting system, Initiative, Representative democracy, By-election


As we approach the 2014 election, we are witnessing an unusual situation. Poll results suggest a low level of public interest and a low projected voter turnout in this election. Only about half (52%) of the public say they are currently paying attention to the election (CBS News-New York Times [CBS-NYT] poll, 2014). On the basis of past nonpresidential-year elections, less than half of U.S. adults are expected to vote.(1) At the same time, congressional candidates are raising a number of important national issues, including what should be the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the years ahead. . . .

Concepts: Time, Future, Voting, Elections, Poll, Election, Voting system, Voter turnout


Election data represent a precious source of information to study human behavior at a large scale. In proportional elections with open lists, the number of votes received by a candidate, rescaled by the average performance of all competitors in the same party list, has the same distribution regardless of the country and the year of the election. Here we provide the first thorough assessment of this claim. We analyzed election datasets of 15 countries with proportional systems. We confirm that a class of nations with similar election rules fulfill the universality claim. Discrepancies from this trend in other countries with open-lists elections are always associated with peculiar differences in the election rules, which matter more than differences between countries and historical periods. Our analysis shows that the role of parties in the electoral performance of candidates is crucial: alternative scalings not taking into account party affiliations lead to poor results.

Concepts: Voting, Elections, Election, Voting system, Proportional representation, Voter turnout, Preselection, Party-list proportional representation


A new viewpoint on electoral involvement is proposed from the study of the statistics of the proportions of abstentionists, blank and null, and votes according to list of choices, in a large number of national elections in different countries. Considering 11 countries without compulsory voting (Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Romania, Spain, and Switzerland), a stylized fact emerges for the most populated cities when one computes the entropy associated to the three ratios, which we call the entropy of civic involvement of the electorate. The distribution of this entropy (over all elections and countries) appears to be sharply peaked near a common value. This almost common value is typically shared since the 1970s by electorates of the most populated municipalities, and this despite the wide disparities between voting systems and types of elections. Performing different statistical analyses, we notably show that this stylized fact reveals particular correlations between the blank/null votes and abstentionists ratios. We suggest that the existence of this hidden regularity, which we propose to coin as a ‘weak law on recent electoral behavior among urban voters’, reveals an emerging collective behavioral norm characteristic of urban citizen voting behavior in modern democracies. Analyzing exceptions to the rule provides insights into the conditions under which this normative behavior can be expected to occur.

Concepts: European Union, Voting, Elections, Plurality voting system, Election, Democracy, Voting system, Voter turnout


Although expectations are key theoretical antecedents of emotion and behavior, expectations are typically examined as static properties without deep consideration of their temporal dynamics. We surveyed residents of California over five time points, during the month preceding a public ballot initiative on cannabis legalization (California Proposition 19) and after the election, to examine both the causes and the consequences of residents' expectation trajectories regarding the vote’s outcome. Our results point to the importance of changes in individuals' expectations over time. Specifically, well-informed voters were likely to lower their expectations regarding the measure’s passage as the vote neared, in line with polling results, but being informed about the initiative had less impact on expectation trajectories among voters who favored the measure than among those who opposed it. Furthermore, supporters who maintained their optimism about the initiative’s outcome over time were more likely to vote and were more disappointed following the measure’s failure, compared with supporters who became more pessimistic. The findings suggest that temporal changes in people’s optimism and expectations play a unique role in social behavior.

Concepts: Voting, Elections, Poll, Election, Referendum, Voting system, Initiative, Keith Jarrett