Do Shifts in Late-Counted Votes Signal Fraud? Evidence From Bolivia
57 Pages Posted: 1 Jul 2020 Last revised: 22 Feb 2022
Date Written: January 28, 2022
Shifts in late-counted votes often spark unfounded claims of electoral fraud. These claims exploit the early-count mirage: the expedient illusion that, absent fraud, an early advantage will persist. We characterize the early-count mirage and evaluate associated fraud claims in four disputed elections, focusing on the case of Bolivia in 2019. When late-counted votes delivered a narrow victory for the incumbent, fraud accusations followed—with dramatic political consequences. But we find that the vote-share trend can be explained without invoking fraud, and that the allegedly suspicious shift in late-counted votes was actually an artifact of methodological and coding errors on the part of electoral observers. We document similar patterns in the other three cases. The details are context-specific, but the core insights are general: time trends from legitimate vote-counting processes are far more varied—and errors in influential analysis far more frequent—than election skeptics allege.
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