The Irrelevance of Benford's Law for Detecting Fraud in Elections

Working Paper No.: 
Date Published: 
Joseph Deckert
University of Oregon
Mikhail Myagkov

With increasing frequency websites appear to argue that the application of Benford’s Law – a prediction as to the observed frequency of numbers in the first and second digits of official election returns -- establishes fraud in this or that election. However, looking at data from Ohio, Massachusetts and Ukraine, as well as data artificially generated by a series of simulations, we argue here that Benford’s Law is essentially useless as a forensic indicator of fraud. Deviations from either the first or second digit version of that law can arise regardless of whether an election is free and fair. In fact, fraud can move data in the direction of satisfying that law and thereby occasion wholly erroneous conclusions.

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