Ghostbusters: it’s time to deal with Vanuatu’s phantom votersPosted: January 8, 2016
By Anna Naupa and Nick Howlett
Part 1 of a 3-part series on Vanuatu’s Electoral Integrity
Read Part 2: ‘Is diversity of political representation possible in Vanuatu?’ >
Read Part 3: ‘Is dual citizenship a threat to Vanuatu? No, but unregulated political financing is’ >
When Vanuatu goes to the polls on 22 January, 2016, an estimated 2,000 ni-Vanuatu youth, and several hundred recently naturalized adult citizens, will be denied a vote due to the impossibly short deadline for voter registration. Not only is this a denial of the democratic right to vote, it highlights the inaccuracy of Vanuatu’s electoral roll.
In Vanuatu’s 2012 General Election, an estimated 55,000 dead people were included on the electoral roll as eligible voters, about 140% more voters than official census data says there should be. This article suggests a simple and cost-effective way of ensuring the integrity of Vanuatu’s electoral roll so these ‘phantom voters’ don’t come back to haunt us.
As in any democratic country, Vanuatu’s electoral roll changes as people reach voting age, migrate, or die. The Vanuatu Electoral Office (VEO) faces a number of unique challenges that make updating the electoral roll difficult: a dispersed island geography, high transport costs, a lack of permanent administrative staff, and inadequate voter registration accountability systems. On top of this are local allegations of political interference and electoral fraud.
There is no easy way to overcome these difficulties, but there are some quick statistical tests that can help pinpoint polling districts. Recent research has shown that analyzing the rate of voter turnout in each voting district, and preferably at each polling station, is not only accurate at predicting voting irregularities, it is also cost-effective. The number of ‘phantom voters’ can be determined simply by comparing voter turnout rates with the electoral roll and calculating the statistical likelihood of the different turnout rates.
So, how does this method work? First, we need to separate the dead from the living using the official census data to give us a more accurate figure of the total number of registered voters. There were officially 192,632 registered voters at the time of the 2012 general election. But the census data from the Vanuatu National Statistics Office (VNSO) shows that this is highly unlikely: in 2012, almost 50% of Vanuatu’s 250,000 population was under the age of 15, and therefore below the voting age of 18. Census-based estimates of the 2012 voting age population suggest the electoral roll contains around 55,000 additional voters (see Table 1).
Table 1. 2012 Predicted 18-21 year old voters
|Total Population (Usually Resident)||233,561||118,826||114,735|
|15 years and under||96,122||50,155||45,967|
|18 years and over||128,014||63,997||64,017|
|Predicted Voting Age Population in 2012||137,439
(compared to 192,632 on the electoral roll)
Note: authors’ calculations based on 2009 National Census Results (Usually Resident Population by Age, Table 2.6), assuming no deaths during this time. Even allowing for a 5% margin of statistical error, the upper limit of the population at voting age in 2012 is 144,311; still 48,321 less than those on the electoral roll.
We should also note that this figure is likely to be even higher, because voting is not compulsory in Vanuatu, and a proportion of the population choose not to register to vote for or other reasons.
Having identified the estimated number of ‘phantom’ voters on the electoral roll, the next step is to work out the true size of Vanuatu’s voting population. This is where the voter turnout rate method comes in handy: the official count of voter turnout in the 2012 general election was 118,256 voters.
This is much closer to the estimate of voter population we got above from using the official census data, and is a much more accurate estimate of the total voting population. The voter turnout figure is even lower than the census-based estimate because voting is not compulsory in Vanuatu, and a proportion of the population may choose not to register to vote for religious or other reasons.
But it doesn’t stop there: we can use voter turnout rates to analyse election results at the local level. This is where the voter turnout method is at its most powerful.
Closer analysis of voter turnout at the district level during the 2012 General Election indicates that voter turnout was unusually low in several districts, Santo, Malo/Aore, Luganville, Ambae, Efate and Port Vila.
These districts showed low rates of voter turnout compared to the overall national voter turnout rate in the 2012 Election, as well as the voter turnout rates in other electorates elsewhere in the country.
It should be noted that low voter turnout in these districts doesn’t necessarily indicate electoral fraud, however; there are a number of possible reasons for this, for example high population mobility in urban centres, poor weather conditions or local events. But the anomalies in the electoral roll in these districts do indicate that reviewing the electoral roll in these districts should be a top priority.
As we have shown above, using census data to get an accurate number of the total voting population is the first step in ridding Vanuatu of its phantom voters. The voter turnout rate method can then be used to further refine this figure. Most importantly, this method can be used at a local level to highlight the districts with the most irregularities so that they can be reviewed as a matter of priority.
The VEO needs to do some ghostbusting as soon as possible and deal with Vanuatu’s phantom voters once and for all.
Anna Naupa conducted research into Vanuatu’s electoral integrity while studying at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2013-14. Her research paper can be read here.
Nick Howlett is a Vanuatu communications professional currently completing an MA at Griffith University, Australia.
Opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the authors and do not express the views or opinions of any organization or imply endorsement of any political party or position.