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Iran's Deserted Polling Stations: Citizens Report Their On-the-Ground Experiences

June 18, 2021
4 min read
Iranians who cast their votes on Friday reported lower turnout at many key polling stations
Iranians who cast their votes on Friday reported lower turnout at many key polling stations
Technical problems led to delays in the morning and people only wishing to vote in the local council elections also faced obstruction
Technical problems led to delays in the morning and people only wishing to vote in the local council elections also faced obstruction

An online chatroom by the name of “Your Field Observations on Election Day” drew in a large audience on Friday. Iranians from all over the country shared what they had observed at different polling stations on a day marked by low turnout and widespread ennui.

A resident of the western city of Kermanshah told those present that he had been compelled to vote because of his job. He declined to say what he did for a living because he said he feared for his safety.

“I went to the polling station at Azadegan Square early in the morning, at 7.30,” he said. “But they said the [electronic] system wasn’t working. This is one of the city’s main polling stations but there were very few people there.”

In the early hours of the vote reports flooded in from different Iranian cities about apparent malfunctions to the digital system, leading to delays. The Guardian Council has ordered an investigation and in the mean time, affected polling stations were instructed to use the “old-fashioned” paper ballots.

“I came back at 9 o’clock,” the Kermanshah resident said, “but they said the system was still not working. Eventually I had to cast my vote at a school near my workplace.

“The real issue was that one of the supervisors kept telling me ‘Remember to vote for Mr. Raisi or the country will go to ruin.”

His choice, he said, was a candidate other than Ebrahim Raisi. His ballot was then stamped incorrectly, meaning he had to wait to obtain the right stamp in order to be sure his vote would be counted.

A resident of the Tehran neighborhood of North Ekhtiyariyeh told the Clubhouse group: “This is a very traditional area. The mosque, which is one of the main polling stations, was near-deserted. Just five or six people were voting and there were no queues.”

Throughout the day Iranian state TV broadcast footage of lines at scattered polling stations in major cities. But this Tehran resident said that the other, smaller polling stations were by and large empty.

“In 2017,” he recalled, “when my spouse and I wanted to vote, we had to stand in line for about three hours at one of the local schools. The line went all around the schoolyard. But today, at the same school, just a few people were inside casting votes.”

A resident of Tabriz, the capital of East Azerbaijan province, said that in their city the main polling stations were also very quiet and most of those who were present appeared to be ultra-religious.

“The women were veiled and in chadors,” they said, “and the men were in very conservative outfits. The vote of the religious typers who support the regime will be going to Mr. Raisi; these were the ones who came out to vote, but turnout among ordinary people was very low.”  

A resident of Sadeghieh, west of Tehran, said that Imam Sadegh Mosque, which has always been a key polling station, was “largely deserted”.

“On no other election day have I seen it so empty,” they added. “In 2017 my parents had to stand in line for several hours. But this year, there was no queue.”

Voting in the “Other” Election

A resident of Qarchak in Tehran province had a slightly different experience. “The main polling stations were crowded,” he said. “Turnout at the smaller venues was lower.”

But he added, the principal reason for higher turnout at some sites was people wanting to cast their votes in the elections for city and village councils, which ran concurrent with the presidential election.

A resident of the Persian Gulf port of Abadan in Khuzestan province agreed: “Most people on the margins of cities and villages do go to vote for their local councils. There are family and tribal rivalries [involved] in getting elected to these bodies.”

He lamented: “When I wanted to vote in 2017 I had to visit several polling stations to find a less crowded one. But this year, nowhere was crowded – even Behbahan Mosque, which has always been one of the most congested.”

Since the election got under way on the morning of June 18, voters have also reported polling station supervisors asking them on the door whether they wanted to vote in the presidential election, for the councils, or both.

A number of Iranian observers have said this is against electoral regulations and voters should be given both sets of ballot papers upfront so they can decide for themselves.

“When they asked me which election I wanted to vote in,” one Tehran attendee said, “I said just the city council. But then I saw him scanning the presidential ballot paper as well. When I objected, he told me: ‘If we don’t scan both of them the system comes up with an error message and your vote is not counted.”

Related coverage:

Election Disruption: From Blackouts to Ballot Paper Shortages

Khatami Votes as Ahmadinejad Insists on Boycott

Sattar Beheshti’s Mother: To Vote Is to Become an Accessory to Bloodshed

27 Arrests in One Province for "Subverting the Election"

Iran’s LGBT Community Boycotts the Election

Khamenei's Last Pre-Election Address: Take Part in the Show, or We'll do it For You



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