Monday, October 24, 2005

Iraq Referendum: Florida deja-vu

Last week, I wrote a post about the parallels between the Iraq referendum and the 2000 American presidential election. Over the past few days, it has been apparent that my predictions seem to be coming true. In 2000, the American presidential election came down to the results of one state (Florida), and it seems this whole Iraq referendum is coming down to one province (Nineveh), home to the City of Mosul.

And, like Florida, there have been some allegations of voting irregularities in Mosul. The Chicago Tribune describes Nineveh as, "one of the four provinces from which results are being audited after UN observers monitoring the count noted suspiciously high turnouts at some polling stations, as well as suspiciously high numbers of 'yes' votes at some of them."

The key question here will be how many "no" votes were cast in Nineveh. It is not sufficient for a simple majority of voters in Mosul to have rejected the constitution: at least 67% will need to have voted "no". This is a bit more complex to predict than meets the eye. Mosul is an ethnically mixed city of 1.7 million people, including Sunni Arabs, Turkomen, Kurds, and a smaller minority of Chaldeans and Assyrians. Like most of Iraq, Mosul is overdue for a census, so there are no accurate numbers of exactly how many of each ethnic group reside there, although it is generally known that Sunni Arabs make up a slight majority.

It is also unclear what percentage of each group voted for or against the constititution. While the general mood in Mosul may have been against the constitution, and while most Sunni Arabs likely did vote against it, I personally know of at least three Sunni Arabs in Mosul who voted "yes". And, with the angry mood and threat of violence in Mosul, and the fact the voting was based on secret-ballot, someone might easily tell his friends and family he voted "no" while he really voted "yes".

Whenever the final referendum results come out this week, I expect there will be a lot of controversy. This is, I am sure, why they are taking the time on the count. It must be very close - if it wasn't, I expect they would have announced the results already.

Original Post from October 17

Like many people here in the United States, I still have painful memories of the 2000 presidential election, where George Bush narrowly beat Al Gore. The vote was so close, it all came down to a single state, Florida, and to a few narrowly-contested counties within that state. Unfortunately, Florida had one of the most screwed up voting systems at the time, relying largely on antiquated punch-card voting systems with confusing "butterfly ballots" and the like. For weeks, our evening news coverage was replete with stories about "hanging chads", "dimpled chads", confused voters who ended up voting for the wrong candidate on a butterfly ballot, etc. Even today, some people argue that George Bush did not legitimately win that election.

From the preliminary results It seems that Iraq may be going down the same road.

The process for the draft Iraqi constitution passing is relatively straightforward: it just requires a simple majority. However, there is another factor: if two-thirds of the population in any three provinces vote "no", the constitution is vetoed. With the Shia Arab and Kurd factions (who together make up nearly 80% of the population of Iraq) heavily in favor of the constitution, it was easily expected to win the simple majority vote. However, with many Sunnis vehemently against the constitution, and four of Iraq's provinces with Sunni majorities, having a 2/3 vote in three of them is a real possibility.

From the early results that came out today, Anbar province (home to Fallujah, Qaim, and other restive cities) had a heavy voter turnout and over 90% voting "no". Likewise Salah al-Din province, home to Saddam's hometown of Tikrit and Samarra had a heavy "no" vote, while Diyala had a narrow "yes" vote.

If these initial reports are true, the whole election may boil down to Nineveh province, home to Mosul and a number of my online Iraqi friends.

The news today offered differing opinions on Nineveh. The Associated Press reported a 78% "yes" vote in Nineveh. Meanwhile, CNN quoted a senior elections official as saying the early Nineveh counts were 778,800 voters with 424,000 (54%) voting "no". Based on my good friend Najma's reports of the voting and the general sentiment among the Sunni population in Mosul, this latter CNN report sounds a lot more accurate.

While 54% would be a majority "no" vote in Nineveh, it would not be a high enough number to veto the constitution and override the majority "yes" votes in the other parts of the country. To veto the constitution would require 67% in Nineveh voting "no" (two thirds of the total ballots).

If the vote tally in that one province ends up being close to that 67% mark, Nineveh may end up being Iraq's Florida, and Mosul may end up Iraq's Miami-Dade County in this referendum. When there is a strong majority, the room for error is much greater, however when you are close, every ballot counts and needs to be scrutinized. Minor voting irregularities, which otherwise would not make much of a difference, could tip the final result either way.

This week is going to be very interesting....