Skip to main content Accessibility help

Making Outsiders' Votes Count: Detecting Electoral Fraud through a Natural Experiment



Weak electoral registration requirements are commonly thought to encourage electoral participation, but may also promote electoral fraud. As one possibility, candidates and their supporters can more easily mobilize voters who do not reside within the district to register there fraudulently and vote for that district's candidates. We statistically detect this classic type of electoral fraud for the first time, by taking advantage of a natural experimental setting in Japanese municipal elections. We argue that whether or not a municipal election was held in April 2003 can be regarded as an “as-if” randomly assigned treatment. A differences-in-differences analysis of municipality–month panel data shows that the increase in the new population just prior to April 2003 is significantly larger in treatment municipalities (with an election) than in control ones (without an election). The estimated effects are decisive enough to change the electoral results when the election is competitive. We argue that our approach—“election timing as treatment”—can be applied to investigate not only this type of electoral fraud but also electoral connections in other countries.


Corresponding author

Kentaro Fukumoto is Professor, Department of Political Science, Gakushuin University, 1-5-1 Mejiro, Toshima, Tokyo 171-8588, Japan (
Yusaku Horiuchi is Associate Professor, Crawford School of Economics and Government, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University, J.G. Crawford Building, No. 132, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia (


Hide All
Alvarez, R. Michael, Hall, Thad E., and Hyde, Susan D.. 2008. Election Fraud: Detecting and Deterring Electoral Manipulation. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
Alvarez, R. Michael, and Katz, Jonathan N.. 2008. “The Case of the 2002 General Election.” In Election Fraud: Detecting and Deterring Electoral Manipulation, eds. Michael Alvarez, R., Hall, Thad E., and Hyde, Susan D.. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 149–61.
Birch, Sarah. 2007. “Electoral Systems and Election Misconduct.” Comparative Political Studies 40 (12): 1533–56.
Campbell, Angus, Converse, Philip E., Miller, Warren E., and Stokes, Donald E.. 1960. The American Voter. New York: Wiley.
Campbell, Tracy. 2005. Deliver the Vote: A History of Election Fraud, an American Political Tradition–1742–2004. New York: Carroll and Graf.
Chang, Eric, and Golden, Miriam. 2006. “Electoral Systems, District Magnitude and Corruption.” British Journal of Political Science 37 (1): 115–37.
Christensen, Ray, and Colvin, Kyle. 2009. “Stealing Elections: A Comparison of Election-night Corruption in Japan, Canada, and the United States.” In Political Change in Japan: Electoral Behavior, Party Realignment, and the Koizumi Reforms, eds. Reed, Steven R., Mori McElwain, Kenneth, and Shimizu, Kay. Stanford, CA: Shorenstein Asia–Pacific Research Center, 199218.
Converse, Philip E. 1972. “Change in American Electorate.” In The Human Meaning of Social Change, eds. Campbell, Angus and Converse, Philip E.. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 263337.
Cox, Gray W., and Morgan Kousser, J.. 1981. “Turnout and Rural Corruption: New York as a Test Case.” American Journal of Political Science 25 (4): 646–63.
Dai 4 Ji Senkyo Seido Shingikai. 1966. Senkyo no Tetsuzuki ni Kansuru Shôiinkai Iinchô Chûkan Hôkoku Yôshi [Chairman's Interim Report Outline of Subcommittee on Electoral Procedures]. February 15.
Dubin, Michael J. 2007. Party Affiliations in the State Legislatures: A Year by Year Summary, 1976–2006. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.
Dunning, Thad. 2008. “Improving Causal Inference: Strengths and Limitations of Natural Experiments.” Political Research Quarterly 61 (2): 282–93.
Fisher, J. A. 1999. “The Probability of Being Decisive.” Public Choice 101: 267–83.
Fukumoto, Kentaro, and Horiuchi, Yusaku. 2009. “Mobilization and Participation: A Natural Experiment.” Presented at the Annual Summer Meeting of the Society for Political Methodology, New Haven, CT.
Fukumoto, Kentaro, Horiuchi, Yusaku, and Tanaka, Shoichiro. 2011. “Treated Politicians, Treated Voters: A Natural Experiment to Estimate Electoral Effects on Fiscal Expenditure.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago.
Fukumoto, Kentaro, and Ueki, Futoshi. 2011. “Shichôson Senkyo ga Tôitsu Chihô Senkyo kara Itsudatsu Shita Jiki to Riyû.” [“When and Why Did Municipalities Drop from the Simultaneous Local Elections?”] Gakushuin University. Unpublished Manuscript.
Horiuchi, Yusaku. 2005. Institutions, Incentives and Electoral Participation in Japan: Cross-level and Cross-national Perspectives. London: Routledge Curzon.
Horiuchi, Yusaku. 2009. “Understanding Japanese Politics from a Local Perspective.” International Political Science Review 30 (5): 565–73.
HutchesonJohn A., Jr. John A., Jr. 1997. “Elections and the Franchise.” In Britain in the Hanoverian Age, 1714–1837: An Encyclopedia, eds. Newman, Gerald and Ellen Brown, Leslie. New York: Garland Publishing, 222–24.
Hyde, Susan D. 2007. “The Observer Effect in International Politics: Evidence from a Natural Experiment.” World Politics 60 (1): 3763.
Hyde, Susan D. 2008. “How International Election Observers Detect and Deter Fraud.” In Election Fraud: Detective and Deterring Electoral Manipulation, eds. Alvarez, R. Michael, Hall, Thad E., and Hyde, Susan D.. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 201–15.
Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, the Parliament of Australia. 2001. User Friendly, Not Abuser Friendly: Report of the Inquiry into the Integrity of the Electoral Roll. (accessed June 10, 2011).
Keisatsuchô, . 2003. Hanzai Tôkeisho [Criminal Statistics].
Lehoucq, Fabrice. 2003. “Electoral Fraud: Causes, Types and Consequences.” Annual Review of Political Science 6: 233–56.
Lehoucq, Fabrice E., and Molina, Ivan. 2002. Stuffing the Ballot Box: Fraud, Electoral Reform, and Democratization in Costa Rica. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
MacManus, Susan. 1999. “The Resurgent City Councils.” In American State and Local Politics: Directions for the 21st Century, eds. Weber, Ronald E. and Brace, Paul. New York: Seven Bridges, 166–93.
Mayhew, David R. 1974. Congress: The Electoral Connection. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Mebane, Walter R. 2008. “Election Forensics: The Second-digit Benford's Law Test and Recent American Presidential Elections.” In Election Fraud: Detecting and Deterring Electoral Manipulation, eds. Alvarez, R. Michael, Hall, Thad E., and Hyde, Susan D.. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 162–81.
Minnite, Lorraine C. 2010. The Myth of Voter Fraud. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Moore, John L., Preimesberger, Jon P., and Tarr, David R., eds. 2001. Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly.
Myagkov, Mikhail, Ordeshook, Peter C., and Shakin, Dimitri. 2009. The Forensics of Election Fraud: Russia and Ukraine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nyblade, Benjamin, and Reed, Steven R.. 2008. “Who Cheats? Who Loots? Political Competition and Corruption in Japan, 1947–1993.” American Journal of Political Science 52 (4): 926–41.
Persson, Torsten, Tabellini, Guido, and Trebbi, Francesco. 2003. “Electoral Rules and Corruption.” Journal of the European Economic Association 1 (4): 958–89.
Piven, Frances Fox, and Cloward, Richard A.. 2000. Why Americans Still Don't Vote: And Why Politicians Want It That Way. Rev. and updated ed. Boston: Beacon.
Riker, William H., and Ordeshook, Peter C.. 1968. “A Theory of the Calculus of Voting.” American Political Science Review 62 (1): 2542.
Rosenstone, Steven J., and Mark Hansen, John. 1993. Mobilization, Participation, and Democracy in America. New York: Macmillan.
Sadiq, Kamal. 2005. “When States Prefer Non-citizens over Citizens: Conflict over Illegal Immigration into Malaysia.”International Studies Quarterly 49 (1): 101–22.
Senate, Parliament of the Czech Republic. 2011. “How Are Senators Elected?” (accessed February 18, 2011).
Shepsle, Kenneth A., Van Houweling, Robert P., Abrams, Samuel J., and Hanson, Peter C.. 2009. “The Senate Electoral Cycle and Bicameral Appropriations Politics.” American Journal of Political Science 53 (2): 343–59.
Sômushô Jichigyôsei Kyoku Senkyo Bu. 2003. Chihô Senkyo Kekka Shirabe [Survey of the Local Election Results].
Sômushô Tôkei Kyoku. 2001–2004. Jûmin Kihon Daichô Jinkô Idô Hôkoku [Report of Population Migration in Residential Basic Book]. (accessed June 12, 2009).
Wand, Jonathan N., Shotts, Kenneth W., Sekhon, Jasjeet S., Mebane, Walter R. Jr., Herron, Michel C., and Brady, Henry E.. 2001. “The Butterfly Did It: The Aberrant Vote for Buchanan in Palm Beach County, Florida.” American Political Science Review 95 (4): 793810.
Wolfinger, Raymond E., and Rosenstone, Steven J.. 1980. Who Votes? New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Making Outsiders' Votes Count: Detecting Electoral Fraud through a Natural Experiment



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.