In some ways, it seems as if the Erdogan government wanted to invite scrutiny. Initially, the YSK had required envelopes for ballots to be stamped twice—once by the district’s electoral board, once by the electoral staff at individual ballot boxes, who are a mix of party representatives and government employees. This measure was to ensure the validity of the votes, allowing a set number of ballots to be traced back to specific ballot boxes. But on Sunday afternoon, after polling had begun, the YSK declared envelopes without stamps would be valid “unless it [could] be proven that they were brought from outside the voting room.” Two days later, the YSK published its rationale for accepting unstamped envelopes, saying the ruling was made to insure voters weren’t disenfranchised.
“By European standards, those ballots needed to be, in fact, invalid,” Marianne Mikko, rapporteur for the monitoring of Turkey with Council of Europe, told me. “I could only guess that if every polling station had some number of unstamped ballots, then of course there would be an impact on the outcome.” Mikko, who observed polling sites in Ankara during the referendum, said a late change in the criteria for ballot validity undermined “an important safeguard” and contradicted the law. More broadly, Mikko said the notion of passing 18 complex constitutional amendments with a simple “Yes” or “No” vote, as the referendum did, was itself problematic. The intimidating atmosphere, alleged voting irregularities, and Turkey’s ongoing post-coup crackdown, mean Europe will need to “toughen its rhetoric” with Erdogan, she said.
Another irregularity cited in an upcoming CHP report is the emergence of 960 ballot boxes that produced only “Yes” votes, mostly from polling sites in the east and southeast that were reported to have barred observers from overseeing the voting process. While it’s possible that some areas did vote 100 percent “Yes” on Sunday, the spike in such cases seemed to be an anomaly, according to a preliminary study on voting patterns in the referendum by Erik Meyersson, an assistant professor at the Stockholm School of Economics. He noted a sharp drop in “Never AKP-ers,” or people that normally voted against the AKP, and a significant swing to pro-AKP “Yes” votes in regions where the party had been least popular in recent elections. (Some city districts in the southeast were leveled during military operations in 2015 and 2016, causing the displacement of an estimated half a million, mostly Kurdish, citizens. The outward migration from the southeast, coupled with the inflow of security forces that are allowed to vote in polling areas where they’re stationed, may provide part of the explanation for such swings in voting patterns.)
While Meyersson acknowledged that these analyses could have multiple interpretations and aren’t necessarily proof of voter fraud, the political environment under which voting took place may have impacted the results. “Given the numerous authoritarian mechanisms in play during this referendum, I find it hard to imagine a scenario where the constitutional amendments would have passed without them,” Meyersson wrote in an email.