On Friday, May 19, Iranians went to the polls to cast their votes for the next president of the Islamic Republic, as well as for local elections. Many of them had to wait long hours to vote — the turnout was substantial. As a result, the polling hours were extended from 9pm to 12 midnight Tehran time. Some were so tired that they gave up and left without voting.
Long lines and long delays, especially in central Tehran, forced Ali Asghar Ahmadi, the head of Iran’s Elections Headquarters, to issue an apology, though he insisted that there had been “no negligence” in preparing for the election.
In some places, for example in Tehran’s Jamarn polling station, people had to wait for hours for extra ballot boxes to arrive because the officials had not anticipated the turnout. This turnout and similar problems were compounded by the fact that it was a requirement for people to verify their identification to prevent fraud. Iranian ID cards do have barcodes but, according to reporters, some stations either did not have enough barcode readers or had none, so the barcode numbers had to be written down by hand to be entered into the system later.
In some places, ballot boxes were in short supply; Rouhani’s campaign headquarters reported that additional ballot boxes were on their way.
Polling stations might have been technologically hamstrung but many Iranian voters found an ingenious way to put communication technology at the service of the election. Using the hashtag #NotCrowded, they let people know where they had a better chance of voting without a long wait.
There were other snags as well. Tayebeh Siavoshi, a member of Tehran’s Election Supervisory Board, reported that in some places even the ballots were in short supply. Her claim, however, was denied by Ali Asghar Ahmadi, who said that nowhere in Iran was there a shortage of ballots and such claims were just hearsay, not fact.
Principlist Telegram channels and media, however, echoed the same claim. “Why is the government lowering turnout by neglecting to provide ballots?” asked Elias Naderian, the three-term principlist member of parliament. Mohammad Dehghan, Mohammed Bagher Ghalibaf’s campaign chairman — Ghalibaf dropped out earlier this week — accused Rouhani’s government of not supplying enough ballots to underprivileged areas in a bid to reduce the number of votes cast for his rival Ebrahim Raeesi, whom Ghalibaf supports. They called on people not to leave the polling stations if they encountered such problems, and to wait until additional ballots arrived.