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Source: IranWire

Mar 2, 2024

Fraud, Sanctions and Rigging the System: Iran’s Electoral Realities


Most of Iran's disgruntled and disenchanted voters are expected to skip today's elections for parliament and the Assembly of Experts. 

They see the process as a false display of democracy meant to validate a government that has not improved their living conditions or personal freedoms.

Elections for Iran’s 290 parliamentary representatives occur every four years while elections for the Assembly of Experts, which appoints 88 representatives, are held every eight years.

But understanding these parts of Iran’s system – how election integrity is important to the Islamic Republic, and the significance of electoral outcomes – goes beyond just the votes.

Ali Khamenei's Vote is Easily Identifiable

Following his own tradition, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei casts his vote in the early hours of the voting day, at his headquarters. 

His distinct handwriting is identifiable and his vote aligns with his political inclinations and authoritarian approach to governing. 

But Khamenei’s practice – flagging his preferences at the beginning of the day – raises concerns over the impartiality of Iran’s elections. Khamenei is signalling other members of the Guardian Council regarding his preferred candidates for victory.

The practice contrasts with democratic systems like the United Kingdom where monarchs do not possess the right to vote. And in presidential systems, such as the United States, the head of state has little to no influence over the election process to ensure the independence of voting.

Unstamped ID Cards Raises Risks of Fraud

Voters in the Islamic Republic should receive a stamp on their ID cards after casting ballots – to ensure they only vote once. The method deters electoral fraud even if some voters user fake IDs to repeat their votes.

Recent amendments to Iran’s election law, however, mean that polling station offices will no longer stamp ID cards.

Voters can instead use alternative identity documents such as passports or driver's licenses or can present only their national ID number. 

The Ministry of Interior says there are 61 million eligible Iranian voters. The new system raises the risk of voter fraud with a danger of thousands of fake identities and votes changing outcomes and turnout numbers.

Implementing this new method means that electoral fraud and organized manipulation of statistics are both more likely. Even individuals who choose not to vote could find their names included in the voter turnout data if someone used their national ID number.

Invalid or Spoilt Votes Included in Turnout Statistics

In the early years of the Islamic Republic, citizens often voted out of fear of repercussions which would result in distorted or spoilt ballots. Spoilt votes refer to ballots marked with scribbles or names other than the candidates. 

The recent regulatory changes means that the Iranian government will now include both invalid and spoilt votes in its turnout statistics. 

Results of the new practice were evident after the 2021 presidential election when, after the results of winner Ebrahim Raisi, the second-place tally went to spoilt ballots rather than Raisi’s principal rival.

A full 13 percent of votes were invalid in that election while the runner-up secured only 11 per cent of total votes cast.


Iran Prints Millions of Unnecessary Extra Ballots

Iran's Ministry of Interior prints several million additional ballots for each election – under the pretext of providing citizens with spare ballots in case they make a mistake on their first one. But this surplus also presents a significant opportunity for fraud. 

In past elections, notably the 2009 presidential elections, the discovery of thousands of ballots bearing identical handwriting raised allegations of blatant electoral manipulation.

In democratic nations, voters receive their ballots at their registered addresses before voting day and use them to cast their votes. 

The absence of such a registration process in the Islamic Republic doubles the potential for extensive and coordinated fraud.

The Sanctioning of Ahmad Jannati and Other Guardian Council Members

During Donald Trump's presidency, the United States placed five members of the Guardian Council in Iran on its sanctions list. 

The action was in response to these individuals’ involvement in the widespread disqualification of candidates, including approximately 7,000 individuals, during the 2020 parliamentary elections. 

The Guardian Council comprises six clerics appointed by Khamenei and six jurists approved by MPs from a list provided by the judiciary chief, who himself is an appointee of the supreme leader.

Ahmad Jannati, Secretary of the Guardian Council and a direct appointee of Khamenei, along with three other jurists of the council indirectly appointed by Khamenei, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, Siamak Rahpeyk, and Mohammad Hassan Sadeghi Moghadam, are among those sanctioned. 

The fifth individual, Mohammad Yazdi, has since died. 

The Guardian Council can Disqualify Winning Candidates

Beyond scrutinizing and disqualifying candidates for parliament and the Assembly of Experts elections, the Guardian Council also holds the power to invalidate the election of winning candidates.

In the 2016 elections, Mino Khaleghi from the Isfahan constituency was disqualified by the Guardian Council despite securing victory. 

Instead, Khaleghi's electoral rival, who aligns with the Council's political views, was seated in parliament.

The Guardian Council has stated its intention to maintain oversight of candidates until their credentials are approved, leaving open the possibility of disqualifying winning candidates at any stage.

Most of the Assembly of Experts Does Not Choose the Supreme Leader

The Assembly of Experts comprises 88 seats and is tasked with selecting the next leader of the Islamic Republic after Khamenei's death. 

However, within this assembly, a commission of three members holds the exclusive authority to identify candidates for the next leader and to consult with Khamenei on the matter.

The remaining 85 representatives will not be officially notified of these candidate selections until after Khamenei's death. They can only vote for candidates approved by the commission and Khamenei during his lifetime. 

This process raises questions about the true extent of the involvement of the Assembly of Experts in selecting the next leader of the Islamic Republic. 

And the Guardian Council – which approves the candidacy of anyone to the elected to the Assembly of Experts – has endorsed the qualifications of only 144 out of approximately 650 candidates.

The ratio means that there is a choice of less than two candidates per available seat in the upcoming Assembly of Experts.

The Guardian Council assesses candidates’ expertise in Islamic legal reasoning and, notably, disqualified former president and longstanding Assembly of Experts member, Hassan Rouhani, from standing for reelection to the body.

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