Perhaps the most often cited evidence of electoral fraud in Iran’s June 12 presidential election is the Chatham House and Institute of Iranian Studies (University of St. Andrews) report (hereafter CH/IIS), “Preliminary Analysis of the Voting Figures in Iran’s 2009 Presidential Election“.
The first indication of possible fraud the report notes is that “In two conservative provinces, Mazandaran and Yazd, a turnout of more than 100% was recorded.”
The authors acknowledge the possibility that “some voters may have voted outside their home district”, but say the results of their study “are not significantly affected” by this fact because while “it is possible for large numbers of voters to cast their ballots outside their home district (one of 366), the proportion of people who would have cast their votes outside their home province is much smaller”.
This is no doubt true. However a “much smaller” number of people casting their ballot outside of their home province does not necessarily mean an insignificant number, as the authors here assume.
To support this assumption, they assert that “the 30 provinces are too large for effective commuting across borders. In Yazd, for example, where turnout was above 100% at provincial level, there are no significant population centres near provincial boundaries.”
The further assumption is that if voters were to travel outside of their province to cast their ballot, they wouldn’t “commute” very far to do so. But the authors neglect to point out that the election was on a Friday, which is the Islamic day of prayer, and also the weekend in Iran (a fact the principle editor of the report, Professor Ali Ansari, an avowed expert on Iran, certainly is aware of).
The point isn’t that people “commuted” to a different location to cast their ballot, but that people traveled to be with family or to get away for the weekend, and cast their ballots from the places they’d traveled to. The point that there are no major cities in Yazd near the borders of that province (the one example given) is therefore completely irrelevant. People might be unlikely to travel so far just for the purpose of casting their ballot, but they are quite likely to travel quite far for other reasons and cast their ballot because that’s where they are.
In response to allegations of fraud, Iran’s Guardian Council put out a report that listed numerous other explanations for the high turnout in certain areas other than fraud: People “journey to nicer geographic areas with better weather at weekends”; students vote in cities where they go to school, but are not originally from; members of the military vote in the places they are based rather than their hometowns; and cities attract workers who commute from elsewhere.
The Guardian Council also observed that, similarly, in the previous presidential election, “In many areas the number of voters was significantly higher than the number of eligible voters in that area.” In one case, in Shemiranat, the voter count was at 800 percent the number of eligible voters, far higher than any single case in the 2009 election. “Due to the reasons mentioned above, this is quite normal and inevitable”, their report observes.
Furthermore, as the Guardian Council pointed out in a report responding to the charges of fraud, different electoral areas based their forecasts for participation on different criteria. In some areas, the number of expected voters was based on a 2006 census. In others, it was based on the 2005 election figures. In still others, it was based on birth certificates; and as the Guardian Council pointed out, “Clearly the number of birth certificates in an area has nothing to do with the presence of people in the same area at the time of elections, because people are free to choose to live in any areas.”
The Guardian Council report further added, “Also, the changes made during the recent years in dividing the country into various areas have often meant a change in the demography of the area as well. Due to the spring holiday season, Iranians started to travel and this meant that the number of voters in certain areas have shown an increase or a decrease.”
The authors of the CH/IIS report further conclude that “There is no correlation between the increase in participation and the swing to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”
But here they base the assertion that there was a “swing” by comparing the recent results with the primary vote in 2005. However, while in this election there were four candidates, it was really recognized to be a race between Ahmadinejad and Mir Hossein Mousavi, whereas in 2005, the primary vote was contested between seven candidates. No candidate won a majority, and so the election went into a run-off; Ahmadinejad versus Rafsanjani. In the run-off, Ahmadinejad won by 63.4 percent of the vote, an even higher percentage than his win this year (62.6 percent). Thus, only by focusing on the primary vote in 2005 and ignoring the run-off can the assertion that there was a “swing” to Ahmadinejad be sustained.
Moreover, a public opinion survey conducted by Terror Free Tomorrow, the New America Foundation, and KA Europe SPRL a month before the election, found that Ahmadinejad was the preferred candidate of respondents by a margin of more than 2 to 1 (34 percent said they would vote for Ahmadinejad, 14 percent for Mousavi, 2 percent for Mehdi Karroubi, and 1 percent for Mohsen Rezai). The survey also predicted a high turnout, with 89 percent of those surveyed saying they would vote. While this survey did not predict that Ahmadinejad would win in the first round by a landslide (the authors predicted the election would go into a run-off), it certainly serves to further demonstrate the fallacy of the assertion that there was a “swing” to Ahmadinejad.
In sum, the CH/IIS report’s first assertion of evidence of fraud is based upon the fallacious assumptions that (1) there is no reasonable explanation for high — and in some cases greater than 100 percent — turnout other than fraud and (2) the results show a “swing” to Ahmadinejad.
The reports further assertions will be addressed (Insha’Allah) in a later post.