A Caltech Library Service

Benford's Law and the Detection of Election Fraud

Deckert, Joseph and Myagkov, Mikhail and Ordeshook, Peter C. (2011) Benford's Law and the Detection of Election Fraud. Political Analysis, 19 (3). pp. 245-268. ISSN 1047-1987.

PDF - Published Version
See Usage Policy.


Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


The proliferation of elections in even those states that are arguably anything but democratic has given rise to a focused interest on developing methods for detecting fraud in the official statistics of a state's election returns. Among these efforts are those that employ Benford's Law, with the most common application being an attempt to proclaim some election or another fraud free or replete with fraud. This essay, however, argues that, despite its apparent utility in looking at other phenomena, Benford's Law is problematical at best as a forensic tool when applied to elections. Looking at simulations designed to model both fair and fraudulent contests as well as data drawn from elections we know, on the basis of other investigations, were either permeated by fraud or unlikely to have experienced any measurable malfeasance, we find that conformity with and deviations from Benford's Law follow no pattern. It is not simply that the Law occasionally judges a fraudulent election fair or a fair election fraudulent. Its "success rate" either way is essentially equivalent to a toss of a coin, thereby rendering it problematical at best as a forensic tool and wholly misleading at worst.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
Additional Information:© The Author 2011. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Political Methodology. Funding: The California Institute of Technology by the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
National Council for Eurasian and East European ResearchUNSPECIFIED
Issue or Number:3
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20111107-094252101
Persistent URL:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:27643
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:07 Nov 2011 18:12
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 03:25

Repository Staff Only: item control page