Vote rigging: How to spot the tell-tale signs

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Gabon’s opposition says it was cheated of victory, after official results showed a turnout of 99.93% in President Ali Bongo’s home region, with 95% of votes in his favor. Elizabeth Blunt has witnessed many elections across Africa, as both a BBC journalist and election observer and looks at six signs of possible election rigging.

  1. Too many voters
  2. A high turnout in specific areas
  3. Large numbers of invalid votes
  4. More votes than ballot papers issued
  5. Results that don’t match
  6. Delay in announcing results

Too many voters

Watch the turnout figures ‒ they can be a big giveaway. You never get a 98% or 99% turnout in an honest election. You just don’t.

A high turnout in specific areas

Even where the turnout is within the bounds of possibility, if the figure is wildly different from the turnout elsewhere, it serves as a warning.

Large numbers of invalid votes

Keep an eye on the number of votes excluded as invalid. Even in countries with low literacy rates this isn’t normally above 5%.

More votes than ballot papers issued

After reconciliation of ballots the result will tell them how many papers should be in the box. It should also match the number of names checked off on the register.

Results that don’t match

t is now standard practice to allow party agents, observers and sometimes even voters to watch the counting process and take photographs of the results sheet with their phones. They then have proof of the genuine results from their area ‒ just in case the ones announced later by the electoral commission don’t match.

Delay in announcing results

Delay is certainly dangerous, fueling rumors of results being “massaged” before release and increasing tensions, but this is not incontrovertible proof of rigging.

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