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Biometric Identification Machine Failure and Electoral Fraud in a Competitive Democracy

Co-authored with Eric Kramon, George Ofosu, and Luke Sonnet

This paper studies election fraud in the competitive but not fully consolidated multiparty democracy of Ghana. Results from a randomized field experiment are used to investigate the effectiveness of newly-introduced biometric identification machines in reducing election fraud in Ghana's December 2012 national elections. We uncover a non-random pattern to the frequent breakdowns of the equipment. In polling stations with a randomly assigned domestic election observer, machines were about 50 percent less likely to experience breakdown as they were in polling stations without observers. We also find that electoral competition in the parliamentary race is strongly associated with greater machine breakdown.

Machine malfunction in turn facilitated election fraud, including overvoting, registry discrepancies, and ballot stuffing, especially where election observers were not present. Our results substantiate that partisan competition may promote election fraud in a newly-established competitive democracy. They also show that domestic election observers improve election integrity through direct observation and also thanks to their second-order effects on election administration.

Recently discussed in The Monkey Cage.

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