Skip to main content
ABC News
Recount in Iran?

The BBC is reporting that Iran’s Guardian Council has announced that a “re-count” of Friday’s votes will take place, following incredible protests and an official challenge to the results by Mousavi and Karroubi.

Commentators have rightly questioned whether a recount would provide any actual relief to the Iranian electoral process. Indeed, Mousavi and his supporters have demanded that Friday’s balloting be invalidated, and a new vote held. The question is, under what circumstances would each option provide a better gauge of the Iranian public’s actual will? It depends on the type of irregularities that actually occured:

1. Intimidation and electoral violence: Reports of activities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and paramilitary forces have been widely discussed. If Nate’s hunch is correct, perhaps 15% or more of the population was willing to abstain from voting.
Recourse: New round of voting

2. Deliberate misreporting of vote totals: The blogosphere has been buzzing with reports of Mousavi’s camp receiving word from the electoral commission that he had won the upwards of 60% of the vote, which was then retracted. If this was simply manipulation of the totals by loyalists in Tehran, and the political winds have shifted, the real total could possibly emerge.
Recourse: Recount

3. “Lost” ballots”: Allegations have also abounded that a significant number of votes were disposed of from areas of strength for Mousavi and Karroubi (probably Rezai as well, but few reports).
Recourse: New round of voting

4. Khameni decided ahead of time: There are commentators, expert and not, that have suggested that the whole electoral process in Iran is a sham, with the results dictated long in advance by the Supreme Leader. Similar allegations were leveled in 2005, when then-unknown Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a surprising second place in the first round.
Recourse: Rioting in the street; move to London

Of course, we suspect that one, two, or perhaps all occurred during the course of the campaign, to varying degrees. The key question is really whether the top leadership has in fact decided to pull back from their support of Ahmandinejad for fear of more serious civil unrest, or if the recount offer is simply a measure to save face before recertifying Mr. Ahmadinejad.

UPDATE: Iranian authorities have instituted new measures to “clamp down” on foreign media correspondants in the country. The BBC reports that the promised recount is looking more like “just a political ruse to try and wrong-foot the opposition.” Nonetheless, a huge opposition rally in Tehran has begun again today, against Mousavi’s pleas to avoid an encounter between rival groups.

Renard Sexton is FiveThirtyEight’s international columnist and is based in Geneva, Switzerland. He can be contacted at