June 18, 2021
From the early hours of the 2021 presidential election in Iran, there were reports of disturbances and hold-ups at polling stations. Some activists see these as early signs of deliberate interference.
The issues were first flagged up in a letter by the chief of Ebrahim Raeesi’s campaign staff to the Election Publicity Commission. “Despite the fact that voting got under way at 7am,” he wrote, “many reports from various parts of the country show that there has been serious disruptions to the electoral process.”
Reports from the ground indicated there were technical problems in electronic voting systems. Jamal Aref, head of the National Election Headquarters, confirmed these reports and said that the interior minister has ordered polling stations to “go offline”.
The Guardian Council also issued a statement announcing that if electronic systems were malfunctioning, voting must be done the “old fashioned way”.
But some witnesses told audiences on Clubhouse that despite these commands, some polling stations were still refusing to accept votes on paper. “We have not received such an order,” they apparently told reporters. The result has been that many voters have been forced to stand by idly and wait for a resolution.
Power outages were also reported in a number of polling stations, as well as shortages of ballot papers at a number of sites. Officials have denied this has been an issue.
Some believe these shortages could result in “ballot fabrication”. Others reported that polling station staff told them that they would be receiving more ballot papers from Tehran.
All these problems, combined with the Supreme Leader Khamenei’s last address to the nation, have caused concern about the election’s vulnerability to fraud and ballot-stuffing. In the meantime, a number conservative political activists and supporters of the Islamic Republic have been saying – despite all the evidence on Friday – that they expect to see a turnout of over 70 percent.
Which Election do You Want?
Voters attending polling stations are also reportedly being asked whether they want to vote in the local council elections, the presidential election or both. Some observers have pointed out that if true, this would be against the law; voters must receive the ballot papers for both elections, then decide for themselves.
These issues have also been reported to the online system that the Guardian Council set up to receive reports from the general public about violations of the regulations.
As of late afternoon on June 18, the system had received more than 5,000 complaints, most of which related to long delays in opening polling stations, issues with electronic systems and voters being questioned on the door.
Other issues reported by Iranian media outlets included the expulsion of observers assigned by candidates from some polling stations, unstamped paper ballots, a shortage of ballot papers for the local council elections, the absence of candidate lists in some venues, and the names of candidates who have withdrawn remaining on other lists.
Supporters of the Islamic Republic described these problem as “management issues” and “disruptions” while the opposition believes that they lay the groundwork for fraud. At about 8.30pm, state media reported that 22 million people had cast a vote so far.