First Digits and Electoral Fraud in Iran
An interesting issue has arisen recently about the possibility that the counting of the recent hotly contested Iranian election results might have been fraudulent. I mention it here because it involves Benford’s Law – otherwise known as the First Digit Phenomenon – which I’ve blogged about before.
Apparently what started this off was a post on the ArXiv by the cosmologist Boudewijn Roukema, but I first heard about it myself via a pingback from another wordpress blog. The same blogger has written a subsequent analysis here.
I’m not going to go into this in more detail here: the others involved have an enormous headstart and in any case I wouldn’t want to try to steal their thunder. Suffice to say that there is at least a suspicion that the distribution of first digits in the published results is more uniform than would be expected by chance, given the that the general behaviour under Benford’s Law is to have more digits beginning with the digit “1” than any other. This apparently paradoxical result is quite easily explained. It also provides a way to check for fraud in, for example, tax returns. How it applies to election results is, however, not so clear and the analysis is a bit controversial.
I’m sure some of you out there will have time to look at this in more detail so I encourage you to do so…
Oh. The story is gathering momentum elsewhere too. See here.