Venezia and its region, “Veneto”, are not going anywhere. In particular, are not splitting from Rome. Over the last week tens of media outlets all over the words, from Aljazeera to BBC and NBC news, reported the bizzarre piece of news coming from Italy: people from the small (really small) land called Veneto voted to separate the region from the rest of the country. According to the data released from the voting act organizers and reported by journalists, 1/3 of the “Veneti” (eg: people from Veneto) agree to the secessionist action. During later hours the same activists claimed that over 2.500.000 people participated to the referendum. The problem with these numbers is that not only are clearly exaggerated, but also simply impossible.
First of all, let’s make clear an essential point. Whatever will be the final result, the vote will not be legally binding. In fact, the online poll was independently organized by extremely right oriented local activists and parties who want a future state called Republic of Veneto.
Now, why the numbers declared are probably a huge lie. Couple of days a couple of data scientists friends of mine were having breakfast at a coffee shop in Trento, a city very close to the Veneto region border. They heard about the shocking news: 2 millions and a half of Veneti want to say bye bye to the so called Rome-the-big-thief (thief of tax incomes from other regions). 2.5 millions? That sounded strange. They decided to figure the mystery out.
They went back to their lab and made what they called a “open data government” exercise. The two researchers based their experiment entirely on the public open data available on the website www.istat.it. It all began with a easy question: how many inhabitants has this region? The answer is about 4.5 millions. Good. At this point Maurizio and Cristian estimated how many of these citizens could have realistically gone to vote. Again using different kinds of databases from the same free access website, they considered 4 variables: being Veneti (residency), have the right to vote (no minors), being “inclined” to vote (old people usually does not vote), have access to the Internet (the vote was online).
The result is that in the best scenario possible maximum 1.7 million people could have voted for the referendum. While I was interviewing them for the local newspaper L’Arena, they told me: “It is not technically impossible that 2.5 million people voted, but definitely unlikely. You know, it is as if a friend of mine tells me that his neighbor can run 100 meter in 10 second. It could be, but knowing that the guy is not an athlete I would probably doubt it”.
The moral of this story is obviously “Much Ado about Nothing”. But why is this experiment relevant? Because is an example of how regular citizens can disprove or simply verify news coming from mayor news organizations using available government open data. This is freedom, this is democracy. Here you can read the complete research.