With a majority of ‘Yes’ votes in the Constitutional Referendum of 2017, Turkey continued its drift towards an autocracy. By the will of the Turkish people, this referendum transferred practically all executive power to president Erdoğan. However, the referendum was confronted with a substantial number of allegations of electoral misconducts and irregularities, ranging from state coercion of ‘No’ supporters to the controversial validity of unstamped ballots. Here we report the results of an election forensic analysis of recent Turkish elections to clarify to what extent it is plausible that these voting irregularities were present and able to influence the outcome of the referendum. We apply statistical forensics tests to identify the specific nature of the alleged electoral malpractices. In particular, we test whether the data contains fingerprints for ballot stuffing (submission of multiple ballots per person during the vote) and voter rigging (coercion and intimidation of voters). Additionally, we perform tests to identify numerical anomalies in the election results. For the 2017 Constitutional Referendum we find systematic and highly significant statistical support for the presence of both ballot stuffing and voter rigging. In 11% of stations we find signs for ballot stuffing with a standard deviation (uncertainty of ballot stuffing probability) of 2.7% (4 sigma event). Removing such ballot-stuffing-characteristic anomalies from the data would tip the overall balance from ‘No’ to a majority of ‘Yes’ votes. The 2017 election was followed by early elections in 2018 to directly vote for a new president who would now be head of state and government. We find statistical irregularities in the 2018 presidential and parliamentary elections similar in size and direction to those in 2017. These findings validate that our results unveil systematic and potentially even fraudulent biases that require further attention in order to combat electoral malpractices.
Election fraud returns to Turkish agenda as local polls approach
Polling results have indicated that Turkey’s upcoming local elections, due by the end of March, will likely be a vote of confidence after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s new administration endured a rocky first few months.
As such, it will be vital to secure ballot boxes and ensure fairness in the elections, particularly amid concerns about ballot stuffing in previous elections raised by a statistical study published in October.
Veteran journalist Merdan Yanardağ stressed the importance of local elections in a tweet on Thursday, referring to a recent survey of pollster Mediar, according to which the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s share of the vote has dropped to almost 35 percent.
According to some analysts, the AKP may risk losing some metropolitan cities in Turkey in the local elections, as the alliance between the AKP and the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) that helped them win a parliamentary majority in elections this year lies in tatters.
MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli said in October that the MHP would compete in the local elections as an individual party, and not as a part of an alliance.
Election security in Turkey has been one of the opposition’s main concerns over the last decade, as suspicious of electoral fraud have been raised due to vote-counting irregularities.
Ahead of the elections on Jan. 24, suspicions of election fraud were on the rise as Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council relocated ballot boxes in southeast Turkey and ruled that votes which had not been stamped by ballot box officials would be counted.
An academic study published this month said that statistical evidence suggested irregularities in the 2018 presidential and parliamentary elections on a similar scale to irregularities in the 2017 constitutional referendum.
Five academics -Peter Klimek, Raúl Jiménez, Manuel Hidalgo, Abraham Hinteregger, and Stefan Thurner- ran a forensic study of the election using data obtained from the official website of the Turkish election commission, after removing all polling stations with an electorate of less than 100.
The authors said they had applied several recently proposed statistical procedures to test for elementary and low-tech mechanisms of election fraud—ballot stuffing, voter rigging, and result fabrication.
While the analysis demonstrated no consistent evidence for result fabrication, there are significant indicators for ballot stuffing and voter rigging in the 2017 and 2018 data, they said.
Their analysis shows that ballot stuffing might have influenced about 11% of the polling stations and that small stations showed consistently higher number of ‘Yes’ votes in the 2017 referendum than larger stations in close proximity.
“Taken together, the magnitude of these statistical aberrations might have been just large enough to change the outcome of the referendum from ‘No’ to ‘Yes’ for the 2017 constitutional referendum,” they said.
These findings are corroborated by similar results in the 2018 presidential and parliamentary elections for voter rigging and ballot stuffing, which are calculated as 15 percent and 9 percent respectively.
“Overall, the fingerprints and standardised fingerprints for 2017 and the 2018 presidential elections are barely distinguishable from each other,” they said, adding that the overall distribution of votes and turnout across all stations was very similar in these two elections and that both datasets showed basically the same ballot-stuffing and voter-rigging-characteristics.