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Benford's Law is a statistical rule that says that the distribution of digits in real-world numerical datasets tends to follow a specific pattern. It is often used to test whether an election is legitimate or phoney, by comparing the frequency of digits in candidates' vote counts to the expected pattern. For example, it was used in establishing electoral fraud in the 2009 Iranian election.

I recently came across several right-wing sources that claim President-elect Joe Biden's vote counts in the 2020 election violate Benford's Law. Examples include the website "The Red Elephants" and this r/donaldtrump thread. The "Red Elephants" article makes several other claims of fraud, but I would like to restrict this question to the digit frequency analysis. Normally I would immediately dismiss something like this as a baseless partisan conspiracy theory, but the claims should be testable using public records and statistical analysis. Quote:

According to some analysts, Biden’s Vote Tallies Violate Benford’s Law, as all of the other candidates’ tallies follow Benford’s law across the country, except for Biden’s when he gets in a tight race. Biden pretty clearly fails an accepted test for catching election fraud, used by the State Department and forensic accountants.

Analysts ran the data with Allegheny using the Mebane 2nd digit test with Trump vs Biden. The difference was significant. It just doesn’t work. Biden’s is fishy, many significant deviations. In Trump’s there were only 2 deviations but neither are significant at the 5% level. The X-asis is the digit in question, the Y-axis is the % of observations with that digit.

Here are a few of several relevant images from the article:

First digit frequencies in Chicago

First digit frequencies in Chicago

Second digit frequencies in Alleghany County, Pennsylvania

Biden second digit frequencies in Alleghany

Trump second digit frequencies in Alleghany

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    I'm having issues accessing the Reddit link, so just to clarify: Is the claim that Benford's law is violated by Biden/Harris in a significant number of counties nationwide, or only in a few? With over 3,000 counties in the United States, I'm sure some would be expected to violate the law for any given ticket - so some is a different claim than many. Also, I notice that the two plots at the bottom have different y-axis limits - some disingenuous data visualization by someone. – HDE 226868 Nov 7 '20 at 17:29
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    Surely the official vote counts in especially lPennsylvania are not released yet where are the data from? – mmmmmm Nov 7 '20 at 17:30
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    Until the full vote totals are in/certified/etc., this seems like an 'unresolved current event': we can't say if the final result's digits follow Benford's law until we know for sure what the final result's digits are. Finding a few outliers when looking at a snapshot of numbers that are steadily increasing doesn't really say much. – Giter Nov 7 '20 at 17:50
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    We require questions on this site to be about widely-believed ("notable") claims. Some users confuse that with claims coming from sources that they consider reliable. The source of this question's claim might not be considered reliable, but they are widely read. I have deleted comments that insist on reliable sources for this question. (Answers, of course, should use reliable sources.) – Oddthinking Nov 8 '20 at 1:00
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    "It is often used to test whether an election is legitimate or phoney [...] it was used in establishing electoral fraud in the 2009 Iranian election." This is not a fair summary of the Wikipedia page linked, which includes a quote from a paper that explains "Benford’s Law is essentially useless as a forensic indicator of fraud" for elections. I would argue that one person used it to allege fraud in 2009 Iranian election, rather than establish it. – Oddthinking Nov 8 '20 at 1:09
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This answer only addresses the second charts. I'll let Mathematician Matt Parker address Benford's Law.

I can confirm [the result is] actually exactly what you'd expect, that's not out of order... And secondly Benford's Law is not a good test for election fraud. And I quote [from Benford's Law and the Detection of Election Law (2011)] "Benford's Law is problematic at best as a forensic tool when applied to elections".

To the graphs, the vertical scales are different. Narrow vertical scales make changes look larger. While wide vertical scales smooth out changes. Biden's graph is using a more narrow scale than Trump's.

I put them all together in one graph with the same scale and they don't look so different anymore.

Redrawn Graph

I haven't verified the data from the original graph is correct. I had to eyeball the numbers from the graphs.

It is suspicious because someone had to choose to use different vertical axes for each graph. It looks like a case straight out of How To Lie With Statistics.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Oddthinking Nov 11 '20 at 3:47
  • @Oddthinking Thanks for the touch up. Matt Parker's video does a really good job of addressing the full question. Should I add a section to this answer to provide more detail? Do it in a second answer? Or leave it as a link? – Schwern Nov 11 '20 at 6:42
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Disclaimer: I have not looked at the actual data.

In general, the biggest problem with applying Benford's law to district level election data is, that precincts are usually small and similar in size. For example, if all the precincts have around 800 voters and one candidate consistently takes 40-50% of votes, then it is expected, that the most frequent first digits will be 3 and 4.

Benford's law works better in cases where the values span multiple orders of magnitude, which is not the case here.

For concrete examples, it is worth looking at the several Github issues on the source of the analysis:

The disappearance of Benford's law in Milwaukee is a function of voter preference alone. If one candidate has between 60% and 80% average chance of receiving a vote, then the sizes of the wards in Milwaukee are too small to accommodate Benford's law.

More generally, several papers question the usefulness of Benford's law applied to election data:

Does the Application of Benford's Law Reliably Identify Fraud on Election Day?

Unfortunately, my analysis shows that Benford's Law is an unreliable tool. And, as one applies more sophisticated methods of estimation, the results become increasingly inconsistent. Worse still, when compared with observational data, the application of Benford's Law frequently predicts fraud where none has occurred.

Benford's Law and the Detection of Election Fraud

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.

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    @AndrewGrimm I have no idea, wasn't part of the question. Either edit the question adding references to claims that it should be used, or ask a new question. – BKE Nov 7 '20 at 22:34
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    "For example, if all the precincts have around 800 voters and one candidate consistently takes 40-50% of votes, then it is expected, that the most frequent first digits will be 3 and 4." To follow up on this: if one candidate trails behind in a lot of precincts but dominates in a few others - say, takes from a range of 25-95% of votes - then that will produce a wider spread of first digits, but still tending to avoid 1 (for these numbers). Whereas the other candidate would have a spread of 5-75%, thus having results that span more than an order of magnitude, making the law hold better. – Karl Knechtel Nov 8 '20 at 5:42
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    You can reduce the scale of the data needed to apply Benford's law by using a smaller logarithm (i.e. instead of base 10, what if we did base 5?). I'm curious to see the same analyses applied in these cases too. – Anon Nov 8 '20 at 9:25
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    Chicago also provides the same data for previous elections. we see the same pattern in 2016. Moreover, I did the same analysis for the German federal elections 2017 and there Benford's law (1st digit) is simply not applicable at least for the major parties. I guess, this also relates to precincts having roughly the same size. – Quickbeam2k1 Nov 8 '20 at 19:01
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    This answer gets to the heart of the question, but it may also be worth adding that it is pretty common for observed digits to not follow the Benford's Law distribution exactly. But if that's the standard that you want to use then comparing levels of conformity doesn't make sense. The Biden-Harris Benford graph isn't particularly Benford-conforming, but neither is the Trump-Pence graph. If neither conforms, then neither is really "better" than the other. And that's assuming that Benford applies well to vote counts, which as in the answer is unclear. – Upper_Case Nov 9 '20 at 18:07
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Looking at the actual Chicago data at https://www.chicagoelections.gov/en/election-results-specifics.asp by precinct as of late November 7, the charts for Chicago look credible but the assumption that Benford's law should apply do not, at least for Biden/Harris or the minor candidates.

Of the 2069 precincts (most of which are of broadly similar size), Biden/Harris won fewer than 100 votes in 12 precincts, and more than 999 votes in 4 precincts. All the rest (more than 99%) had three digits for their votes, violating the requirement that natural data satisfying Benford's law should span several orders of magnitude. More than half the precincts (1100) gave Biden/Harris from 300 through to 499 votes, making 3 and 4 the most common first digits (the chart reflects this and is close to showing the actual frequencies by hudreds of votes, so 300-399 was the most common).

For Trump/Pence, votes were more widely dispersed: 99 precincts with 1-9 votes, 1339 precincts with 10-99, and 633 precincts with 100 or more votes. This dispersion over orders of magnitude allowed a greater chance of coming closer to matching Benford's law.

For the minor candidates, they only reached double digits in a very small number of precincts (and got 0 votes in hundreds of precincts - not shown on the charts) so the charts are close to showing their actual vote distribution with censoring of 0 and 10+; again you would not expect Benford's law to apply.

Chicago was an odd choice to investigate for suspected cheating in 2020 where the gap in Illinois was 12 percentage points (1960 when it was 0.2 percentage points might have been more interesting). I suspect it was chosen simply because the data is publicly available and the distortions caused by similar precinct size led to this non-Benford law result. You will see this elsewhere for similar reasons: in 2019 very few British MPs won a number of votes starting with 5-9, as their constituencies are of broadly similar sizes and the winners usually got in the range from 10,000 to 49,999 votes, again failing the spanning several orders of magnitude requirement.

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    That's a good explanation, though not entirely accurate: There is no requirement for spanning several orders of magnitude, and Benford's Law can be observable even when there is not a wide span of magnitudes. If there is a wide span, Benford's Law tends apply more accurately, but it's not a requirement. What's required is that there not be a cutoff of possible leading digits (a bounding requirement). – user3570982 Nov 8 '20 at 4:01
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    @user3570982 Not having multiple orders of magnitude is a (soft) bounding of possible values in itself. – SomeoneSomewhereSupportsMonica Nov 8 '20 at 11:33
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    @user3570982 - except that that example does not fit Benford's law since the pattern of heights in metres does not match the pattern of heights in feet. "1 is by far the most common leading digit" may be true in that particular example in metres and feet, but it would not have been true for example a scale of half-metres (3 would appear more often as the first digit than 1); the overall Benford distribution does not match that data at any scale. – Henry Nov 8 '20 at 14:04
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    @user3570982 You have quoted the article accurately, but that part of the article is simply wrong. The prevalence of the leading digit 1 is dependent on the unit of measurement. For some choices of a unit (e.g. feet, meters) 1 is most common; for other possible choices of a unit, it is not. Henry gave a counterexample disproving the article's claim. The claim is "almost true", because this particular set of data span almost exactly one order of magnitude and are mostly evenly distributed logarithmically (though with a notable peak around 175 m). – David K Nov 8 '20 at 15:46
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    @user3570982 I think Henry's point is that while data not spanning multiple orders of magnitude can follow Benford's Law--as the heights would have, if a few between 160 and 190 m had been left out of the list--there is no reason to expect them to. The main claim we are discussing here is the predictive power of Benford's Law to election results. It is not looking good for that. – David K Nov 8 '20 at 16:37
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According to Wikipedia:

Benford's law, also called the Newcomb–Benford law, the law of anomalous numbers, or the first-digit law, is an observation about the frequency distribution of leading digits in many real-life sets of numerical data. The law states that in many naturally occurring collections of numbers, the leading digit is likely to be small.
...
It tends to be most accurate when values are distributed across multiple orders of magnitude, especially if the process generating the numbers is described by a power law (which is common in nature).

Beford's Law is not some universal phenomenon, and it failing to hold is not "proof" of fraud. For instance, we can play this game with the vote percentages that Donald Trump received in 2016: 11 first digit of 3, 19 first digit of 4, 16 first digit of 5, 9 first digit of , and 1 first digit of 7 (yes, this adds up to 56; some states don't assign electors based on state-wide totals, and there's also DC). Clearly, Trump's vote percentages were fraudulent! In the reddit thread, u/Three-Twelve says

In the case of the Milwaukee data and Detroit cited in the pictures above, the number of votes per voting area does not span over several orders of magnitude, so Benford's Law is not applicable.

The size of a precinct is likely a stronger predictor of the number of votes for Biden, than Biden's support is. If these people want to claim that this is evidence that the number of voters per precinct is not random, that would be more supported by the evidence, but also much more vacuous (it's hardly earth shattering news that some precinct sizes are preferred over others).

The amount by which a candidate's level of support predicts their vote count, compared to how well precinct size does, will increase the more that level of support varies (as a percentage of that support). Thus, if Biden's support varies between 90% and 95%, and Trump's varies from 5% to 10%, Biden's support is varying by a bit more than 5% (the math is a bit confusing, as this is a percentage of a percentage; 5% is a bit more than 5% of 90%), and Trump's support is varying by 100% (5% is 100% of 5%). So Trump's vote totals will vary more than Biden's, and thus Trump's totals will have more variance across orders of magnitude, and Beford's Law will be more applicable (note that Jo Jorgensen, who has even less support than Trump, has a distribution that is also closer to Benford). For an apples to apples comparison, we'd want to compare to places where Trump was the favored candidate, but those are rural areas, and I would expect precinct sizes to vary more in rural areas than in cities.

The Wikipedia article further says:

Based on the plausible assumption that people who fabricate figures tend to distribute their digits fairly uniformly, a simple comparison of first-digit frequency distribution from the data with the expected distribution according to Benford's law ought to show up any anomalous results.

Biden's distribution is consistent neither with Benford, nor with a uniform distribution. It is, however, a very good fit for a Poisson or lognormal distribution.

Whenever you have a statistical analysis, it's important to remember that the what it can tell you is that the observed data is unlikely given your null hypothesis. Going from that to that the null definitely is false requires further justification, and assuming that because the null is false that means that your favored alternative is true is a false dichotomy. If someone has a model in which this voting data is unlikely, all that is an argument for is that their model is false. Democrats engaging is fraud is just one possible way the model could be false.

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    Where are your Trump numbers from. Citing a Reddit commenter as an authority seems rather weak. The middle part of the analysis needs references; we have no reason to trust you as an analyst. Who says Biden's distribution is a good fit for Poisson/lognormal? I suggest linking to some explanations of fallacies in the last paragraph because it isn't clear. – Oddthinking Nov 11 '20 at 4:29
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    You can't use percentages when applying Benford's law -- they don't span multiple orders of magnitude. If you use the raw vote count for Trump 2016, the distribution of leading digits looks decidedly Benfordian. – Mark Nov 12 '20 at 1:09
  • @Mark It's quite possible for percentages to span multiple orders of magnitude. Do you mean that these particular percentages don't span multiple orders of magnitude? That's my point: not all data sets follow Benford's Law. – Acccumulation Nov 12 '20 at 1:11
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The reason that Benford's law often holds for real-life data is that real-life data is often fairly broadly distributed on a log scale.

[Benford's Law] tends to be most accurate when values are distributed across multiple orders of magnitude

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benford%27s_law

To get from a distribution on a log scale to a distribution of the sort that you usually see in illustrations of Benford's law, you do the following (covered in more detail here):

  1. "Wrap around" the buckets by ignoring the integer part of the base-10 logarithm, and using only the fractional part. If the distribution was broad, then the wrapped distribution will be fairly uniform over the range [0,1).

  2. Redistribute into nine buckets of unequal size, with the leftmost bucket ranging from log 1 = 0 to log 2 ≈ 0.30, the next bucket ranging from 0.30 to log 3 ≈ 0.48, and so on. If the distribution of fractional parts was uniform then about 30% of the data points will end up in the leftmost bucket, 18% in the next one, and so on.

Here's an example of how this works for data that does obey Benford's law: 2,069 randomly generated values (the same as the number of Chicago precincts) in a log-normal distribution with a standard deviation of 100.5:

The left graph is a histogram of the values on a log10 scale with a bucket size of 0.05. The middle graph is the same as the left, but combining buckets with the same fractional part. The right graph is the same as the middle, but with Benford-sized buckets.

Here are actual counts of votes for Biden in the 2,069 precincts, as found here:

You can see that the histogram on the left looks very much like the artificial data. The only difference is that the standard deviation is much smaller. As a result, the wrapped buckets aren't filled uniformly, and so the Benford-sized buckets aren't filled in proportion to their width.

Here's the corresponding data for Trump:

The distribution appears to be bimodal for some reason. Because of the dip in the middle, the wrapped buckets are somewhat less uniformly filled than they otherwise would be, but they are still more uniform than Biden's, simply because the distribution is broader. As a result, the Benford buckets are filled somewhat more in proportion to their width than Biden's were.

What can we conclude from this? I think the primary takeaway is that the middle and right graphs are absolutely useless. Every property of these distributions that might be of interest is present in the graphs on the left. The procedures that produce the other graphs only obfuscate the data. Is the nice Gaussian distribution of Biden's data evidence that it was made up like my artificial data? Is the dip in Trump's data evidence of some irregularity? Maybe (probably not), but whether it is or isn't can best be answered by looking at the original data. The first-digit plots are not helpful in the slightest. The deviation of Biden's data from Benford's law has nothing to do with the plausibility of it, and everything to do with the narrowness of it.

In contrast to the second-digit frequency plots, I don't see clear evidence that these first-digit plots were designed to mislead. But whoever made them is at least statistically illiterate; they don't understand why Benford's law is true to begin with, since if they did, they would have immediately (and correctly) guessed the reason why Biden's first-digit plot looks Gaussian.

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    Why should we believe you that Benford's law is inapplicable and not the claimant saying it is? Please provide some references to support your claims. – Oddthinking Nov 10 '20 at 11:50
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    @Oddthinking It's not clear to me what should be cited in an answer like this one where I just take the data from the question and bucket it in various ways, and point out that one distribution is narrower than another, etc. Do I need a source for something like the narrow standard deviation of Biden's vote totals (which would probably be impossible to find)? I added a link to a math stack exchange answer which has the same explanation of the connection between Benford's law and wide log-normal distributions. – benrg Nov 10 '20 at 16:27
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    @benrg: We don't allow Original Research here. We have no reason to trust that you have done a good job. Even if we can do the arithmetic ourselves and confirm it is correct, we can't be sure you've applied the right process - especially for a question where the applicability of the process is the real question. So, defending that all you've done is analyse the data is basically saying this is not an answer. – Oddthinking Nov 10 '20 at 17:50
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    @Oddthinking It doesn't seem like you're seeking justification for my claims; what you're seeking is someone else who makes the same claims as me, but who is more trustworthy. That's how sources work on Wikipedia. What I don't know is how similar their claim has to be to mine. If it's enough that they say that Benford's law doesn't work with narrow distributions, then I think my existing sources cover it. If they have to specifically talk about Chicago data, then I think the question is unanswerable at this time and all existing answers should strictly speaking be deleted. – benrg Nov 11 '20 at 3:31
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    @Oddthinking I also don't understand why you've singled out my answer. One of the other answers cites nothing, one cites only Wikipedia's article on Benford's law, and one cites only Wikipedia plus a random Redditor in r/donaldtrump who happens to agree with them, and those answers aren't flagged. – benrg Nov 11 '20 at 3:34
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Do vote counts for Joe Biden in the 2020 election violate Benford's Law?

Simple, uninformative answer: They apparently considerably deviate from it, at least on one of the presented charts.

Caveat: This observation alone is not sufficient to jump to any conclusions yet. Two additional questions need to be answered before attempting any jumps:

  1. How (im)probable is this observation under our "normal worldview"?

    Although a commonly observed pattern in election datasets, there are no guarantees for Benford's law to necessarily always emerge. It is therefore important to understand when it is expected to emerge and how far can we expect a given district to deviate from it. This can be done by, for example, analyzing previous elections (assuming those represent "normal voting"). We can model each district's vote distribution based on historical data and measure the expected degree of deviation from Benford's law. Once this is done, we may assess the probability of seeing the observed deviations under these "normal conditions" (a.k.a. the "p-value"). If this probability ends up being low, we will be able to say that "we are very surprised" by our observations.

    This principle is known as statistical hypothesis testing and is the mathematical formalization of any claim of the form "observation violates an expected pattern".

  2. What is the cause of the deviation?

    If the analysis in step 1 happens to result in a "sufficiently low" p-value, i.e the data does not match a "normal" worldview, our next order of business is to come up with an explanation - a model of a "new" worldview, which fits the data better (e.g. by including a particular voting fraud process). Only then we can try to jump to any conclusions.

    This principle is known as statistical modeling.

Metacaveat: Although this all would be pretty standard, textbook-approved methodology of data analysis, give up your hopes that this could help anyone "learn the Truth". Both steps include enormous amounts of subjective judgement and, in the end, it is still one's own beliefs that determine which conclusion to jump towards.

The first step ("modeling normality"), despite relying on mathy techniques and bearing resemblance to hard science, is, none the less, a form of art. Depending on which historical data one picks and how one processes it, it may be possible to end up with the p-value estimate ranging between "unbelievable" to "totally expected".

The second step ("modeling abnormality") is even more subjective - one can usually find hundreds of valid explanations, ranging from data errors to seasonal abnormalities to various types of fraud, and the final decision will be determined by one's prior beliefs as to which of these explanations "seem more plausible".

Given how politically charged the question is, convincing someone else in any chosen judgement's "objectivity" here is probably hopeless. However, I would be extremely interested if anyone actually attempted a systematic analysis and suggested a tentative p-value estimate for the observations.

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    Welcome to Skeptics! This is an answer based purely on a theoretical model. We expect answers to be based on empirical evidence rather than speculative predictions. The answer has been marked as deleted. Please edit it to add references to empirical data and flag it for moderator attention in order to get it reinstated. – Oddthinking Nov 11 '20 at 4:30
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Oddthinking Nov 11 '20 at 15:08
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TL;DR: No they don't; Benford's Law doesn't apply like that to begin with and the analysis was done badly.

Over on twitter, Dr. Jen Golbeck finally lost her temper after one too many poorly sourced graphs and went on a brief but informative rant about it.

A tweet thread is hard to cite properly, and thankfully after she realized how much attention it was getting she transposed it to a somewhat more reliable medium. I'll quote some of the more relevant parts below.

First, a bit on the author: As per her bio, Jennifer Golbeck is is an associate professor at the University of Maryland in College Park and is Director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab. More pertinent, possibly, is that when the Netflix documentary 'Connected' did an episode on Benford's Law, she's the one they consulted.

First, a basic primer on Benford's Law and how it's useful:

Benford’s law basically says that the first digit of numbers in some naturally occurring systems follows a pattern. You may intuitively think that numbers that start with 1 are just as common as numbers that start with 9, but in lots of systems, around 30% of numbers start with 1 and the frequency declines to where only like 5% of numbers start with 9. This is seen ALL OVER! I showed that it applied in social networks to friend counts and that it could be used to detect bots. It’s used in financial and accounting investigations and can even be used in court as evidence of fraud. The length of all the rivers on earth follow this pattern. Atomic weights. JPEG coefficients. It’s mindblowing!

If you want to know more about it, Netflix has a series out called Connected and episode 4 (Digits) is all about it. I’m in that documentary, so say hi when I come across your screen.

She then goes into explaining why it does not acually work on election results the way people think:

First, there’s not a big spread of orders of magnitude in precinct sizes. Most places Benford is applied, you have numbers in the 10s, the 100s, the 1,000s, the 10,000s, etc. Precincts don’t have that much variation in them because we don’t want them to be so giant that we can’t count all the votes. That’s one strike against Benford working.

Next, and this is really important, votes in a precinct are (basically) split between 2 candidates in this election. (3rd party candidates make up such a small percentage that they don’t matter for this point). If Trump gets X votes, Biden gets (basically) TOTAL- X.

Say every precinct has 1,000 people. If Trump follows Benford, Biden COULD NOT follow it.

This is not, in fact, an even remotely new development:

Third, we’ve studied this. We know it doesn’t work. People may share some data from past elections, but there are decades of research looking at elections around the world and it’s extremely well-established the first significant digit Benford analysis does not work here. Full stop.

In fact, she asserts that the people who claim it does are actively trying to mislead:

All the people who read a Wikipedia article and put some numbers in Excel are doing the thing I outlined above. We know this doesn’t work. They are lying — not just misinformed. Many of us have been tirelessly correcting their methods over the past 5 days, but they keep coming. They know it doesn’t work. The papers are all public and available. They do not care. It looks good for their argument and they are trying to trick you.

Like a good researcher, she goes on to cite her sources:

Here’s a quote from a paper on the topic:

“Benford’s Law is problematical at best as a forensic tool when applied to elections…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.”

source: Deckert, Joseph, Mikhail Myagkov, Peter C. Ordeshook. “Benford’s Law and the detection of election fraud.” Political Analysis 19.3 (2011)

She cites a few more sources and reiterates the assertion that the people who claim Benford's law applies and proves election fraud are acting in bad faith, but I've already quoted entirely too much of the article verbatim as is.

I don't have the math background myself to check out her analysis, but it sounds persuasive.

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Professor Walter Mebane at the University of Michigan has written an (unpeer-reviewed) paper about this analysis, Inappropriate Applications of Benford’s Law Regularities to Some Data from the 2020 Presidential Election in the United States.

To date I’ve not heard of any substantial irregularities having occurred anywhere, and the particular datasets examined in this paper give essentially no evidence that election frauds occurred.

My interpretation: "Nice try, but no."

Mebane teaches Election Forensics at the University of Michigan, and has published a paper about Benford's Law and election fraud.

Mebane is arguably the premier authority on this topic. He is the one that applied it to the Iranian elections to prove fraud.

His work has been criticised in the literature, but Mebane has responded to this and everyone seems to miss it. He admits the utility of using Benford's law is an "open question."

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  • Have I understood this correctly? Most of the commenters, and far more importantly, most of the experts cited in answers, have said "Benford's Law is useless for detecting voting anomalies." You are citing an expert who is slightly maverick in that he says "Benford's Law is sometimes useful for detecting voting anomalies", but he also says "In the 2020 US Elections, there are no Benford's Law-based anomalies." – Oddthinking Nov 13 '20 at 4:54
  • The point is - even the guy who has used Benford's Law analysis to identify election fraud says that in this case, proper applications of BL analysis do not indicate any election fraud in 2020. This is very different from someone saying "Benford's Law cannot be used to identify fraud" in light of the fact that it has, actually been used to identify fraud in the past. – user57628 Nov 13 '20 at 19:15
  • Cool. So I have understood it. I was rather confused by the sudden twist in the last paragraph. – Oddthinking Nov 13 '20 at 19:23
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As was pointed out already, there are 2 clearly bogus and easily refutable charts (manipulated x-axis) that have been added to the bottom of the Benford charts on "Red Elephant" website. I've never heard of that site before, but think it's more constructive to refer to the original source of the Biden Benford's analysis.

The original research is here which shows that the counts do violate the Benford law for Biden in several large precincts and wards in Michigan and Pensylvannia- https://github.com/cjph8914/2020_benfords

and then reproduced here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VBK2BU0K6k

Benford’s law shows that 30% of the time, natural numbers will start with a 1. Only 18% of the time is it a 2 and so on down to a leading 9 which happens less than 5% of the time.

There is a key scene in the movie "The Accountant" when the fraud is finally discovered with this technique (due to the frequency of the number 3, in the second digit of the totals). This is an application of Benford's law. In an interview, an FBI agent said they use this technique all the time to sniff out fraud ( https://www.thewrap.com/accountant-adds-up-real-review-ben-affleck ) and this is the same analysis that people have been doing in the last couple days to investigate vote counts in the swing states.

“The Accountant” scene where Ben Affleck proves the fraud with Benford’s law: https://youtu.be/qdMo4ZnTyNs?t=66

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    This answer would be better if it didn't cite a fictional movie. And because Benford's Law is applicable to finding possible accounting fraud does not mean it's applicable to voter fraud. – Schwern Nov 9 '20 at 6:22
  • I cited the fictional movie because that's what the FBI agent was interviewed about in the link before it. FBI agent Cooper said about the technique: "Wolff also identified a series of suspicious transactions by the unusual frequency of the number 3 in their dollar values. Cooper said that was a use of Benford’s law, which lays out the predicted distribution of numbers in a naturally occurring set of data — and something accountants use all the time, through computer programs that analyze data, to sniff out possible problem spots. It identifies patterns that are against the normal. – user1139082 Nov 9 '20 at 11:32
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    If you consult the other answers - and indeed the references to Benford's Law in the question - you will see that, even if it is applicable to some (limited) areas of accountancy, Benford's Law is not expected to be strongly applicable to electoral votes, due to the lack of broadly varying scale. Your answer side-steps this fatal flaw in the analysis. – Oddthinking Nov 11 '20 at 4:23

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