Election Watch – Indonesia, 12 July 2014
Within hours of polls closing in Wednesday’s Indonesia’s presidential election, both Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto had publicly claimed victory. Doubt thus remains over who will be installed as Indonesia’s seventh president, ahead of the electoral commission announcing an official result on 22 July.
How is it possible that both sides believe they have won this time? More importantly, with almost two weeks until the official result, what is the basis for each camp’s declaration?
Both candidates based their claims of victory on the results of so-called “quick counts” conducted on election day. A quick count is a tally of the actual votes at certain polling stations, selected to provide a representative sample of the overall result. Done properly, a quick count is an extremely accurate measure of the final election result.
(Typically, a quick count forecasts the election result plus or minus a margin of error (usually 1%) at a 99% confidence level. Statistically, this means that 99 times out of 100 the election result should fall within 1% either side of the quick count figure.)
Quick counts take advantage of the fact that each of Indonesia’s approximately 480,000 polling stations finish their count on polling day, after which the electoral commission takes many days to aggregate their individual counts to reach an overall result. This time lag makes quick counts a crucial accountability mechanism to guard against the tallies being manipulated. Electoral experts Eric Bjornlund and Glenn Cowan (the latter of whom invented quick counts in the 1980s) call quick counts ‘the only definitive vote count verification mechanism’.
The success of quick counts to accurately forecast election results has seen them used in the 2004 presidential election, both the 2009 and 2014 legislative and presidential elections, as well as in numerous of Indonesia’s hundreds of elections for district heads and governors.
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