Cell Phone Access and Election Fraud: Evidence from a Spatial Regression Discontinuity Design in Afghanistan
68 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2020 Last revised: 21 Apr 2020
Date Written: March 25, 2020
This paper examines the impact of cell phone access on election fraud in the context of the 2009 Afghan presidential election. I combine cell phone coverage maps with unique data on the location of polling centers to accurately pinpoint which centers were exposed to coverage during the election. Results from a spatial regression discontinuity design along the two-dimensional coverage boundary provide considerable evidence that access to cell phones deters corrupt behavior. Polling centers just inside coverage areas report a drop in the share of fraudulent votes of about 4 percentage points while the likelihood of a fraudulent station goes down by about 8 percentage points. Analyses of the effect of coverage on citizen participation in election monitoring, election-related insurgent violence, and the tribal composition of villages suggest that the observed declines in fraud are likely attributed to cell phone access strengthening social monitoring capacity. From a policy perspective, these results illustrate how a widespread technology, namely cell phones, can exert a positive externality on institutional development via corruption deterrence.
Keywords: cell phone access, spatial regression discontinuity, social monitoring, election fraud
JEL Classification: P16, P35, P37, D72, D73
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