Salime Zingil is the HDP’s co-chair for Lice, a small town in the southeast regularly placed under military curfew due to ongoing conflicts in the region. Outside Zingil’s office, a campaign poster featuring a smiling Demirtas covers a large hole in the door, created by the police when they kicked their way in during one of their many raids on the HDP outpost. She said the new regulations allowing security personnel to enter polling stations could intimidate voters in her district, who, according to her, mostly favor the HDP. The armed guards could also keep election observers from entering voting stations, as reportedly happened during the 2017 presidential referendum.
Another big challenge for the HDP is the relocation of 1,090 ballot boxes in Kurdish districts; this will require about 120,000 voters to travel farther to reach polling stations. The relocations originally impacted 144,000 voters, but HDP officials have managed to reverse many of these changes in recent weeks. Still, some voters in Turkey’s southeast, many of whom do not own cars, will need to travel up to 16 miles through rural areas with few paved roads and countless security checkpoints in order to vote.
Zingil said her party has organized transportation services to accommodate such residents, but cannot predict what obstacles they may face. “In the past, when we were transporting voters, the military would stop us and say there were mines on the road ahead and that the road was closed,” Zingil told me. “This could happen again.”
State officials did not respond to multiple interview requests, but Mehdi Eker, an AKP deputy in Diyarbakir, told the Financial Times the number of voters impacted by ballot-box relocations was too small to sway results, given that Turkey’s electorate includes some 59 million voters. “The PKK and their devotees, the HDP, put pressure on people,” Eker said, insisting the election reforms would ensure greater integrity at the ballot box. “This time people will be much more free.”
Most ballot-box relocations are occurring in places like Hani and Lice, near the mountains regularly bombed by Turkish jets searching for PKK hideouts. But some are happening in places like Resik, a largely pro-HDP village in southeast Turkey of 171 mostly elderly voters that has been conflict-free for decades. “I’m supposed to make sure that every person is able to vote,” village leader Abdulbari Fahrioglu told me. “But now that the ballot box is in [another] village, I don’t have any jurisdiction there.”
The validity of the physical ballots and the envelopes in which they are cast has also come into question. In past elections, both the ballot and the envelope were required to carry official stamps from Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council (YSK). After the reforms in March, along with decisions made just four days before election day, the stamps are no longer required. In conjunction, these actions will weaken anti-fraud measures, effectively legalizing the voting irregularities documented during last year’s referendum in which opposition parties questioned the validity of 2.5 million votes. “In 2017, there were accusations of ballot stuffing and voter intimidation coming from the southeast combined with statistical irregularities where districts that had been heavily opposed to Erdoğan suddenly swung dramatically in his favor,” Nicholas Danforth, a senior analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., told me. “Since the first free election in 1950, there’s never been this much concern about the fairness of the vote count itself," he said.