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Behind the Numbers
Posted at 09:36 AM ET, 06/18/2009

New Analysis Points to Fraud in Iran

The election forensics expert who has been poring over the announced results of last week's controversial Iranian elections writes this morning that he is "no longer on the fence" about electoral irregularities there.

In an early morning update to his prelimary report on the election, Walter R. Mebane, Jr. notes: "I think the results give moderately strong support for a diagnosis that the 2009 [Iranian] election was affected by significant fraud."

Mebane, a professor at the University of Michigan, uses newly obtained town-level results from the election four years ago to predict this year's votes, and finds a "large number of outliers," instances where numbers do not make sense given the other outcomes.

In most of these cases, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did better than "natural political processes" would indicate, according to the updated paper. Among other assumptions, this model equates (politically, if not mathematically) 2005 votes for Ahmadinejad rival Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to votes for 2009 challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi (or at least not Ahmadinejad).

This analysis adds a new diminension to the debate over the results, but is still well short of "hard evidence" of fraud, particularly given our limited understanding of voting behavior in Iran.

And all of this may miss a key point brought up by a reader in today's Post: in a letter-to-the-editor, John Cronin of Takoma Park writes that our search for "proof" through numbers may be misguided. "[W]hen an unelected ayatollah -- the "supreme leader," no less -- controls much of the media, the military and the courts, the whole state is effectively rigged," Cronin writes, "[i]t's hard to imagine any election being truly fair under such conditions, regardless of the extent to which the ballot boxes are stuffed."

By  |  09:36 AM ET, 06/18/2009

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