Tehran is a big and sprawling city with intractable traffic and seemingly random road closures. The metro will take you from Mirdamad station, which was once in a far northern section of Tehran and is now close to its center, to the far southern reaches of the city where Tehran's huge graveyard is in just 30 minutes. Getting to Mirdamad station from northern Tehran can take anywhere from ten minutes to an hour depending on traffic. Getting to Khomeini’s tomb from northern Tehran will take 45 minutes at 3 am and up to 2 hours on a day with normal traffic.
That’s just north south. East west is equally large. It’s like Los Angeles, Kansas City, or even Jacksonville: rambling on and on with about as much organization as a rash.
The smart thing to do would be to divide the city into precincts and elect city council members precinct by precinct. Instead, Tehran residents all over Tehran vote for the same pool of candidates. It’s all a bit overwhelming.
Candidates have to run a city-wide campaign to get elected. With limitations on television advertising, this means flyers, posters, sms messages, radio, and balloons. It’s expensive to run for Tehran’s city council. It takes a huge organization. Posters go up like wall paper. One candidate pasted right on top of another.
To make matters even more complicated, each candidate is assigned a code about two days before the election. Ballots are only valid when the candidate’s name and the candidate’s code are written correctly. The most successful campaigners produce cards with candidate’s names and their assigned codes printed on them. This, of course, favors conservatives who have strong organizations. Who else can safely meet and organize in Iran? Simply put, only the conservatives and the fundamentalists have been able to meet with impunity.
Voting for independents or reformers for city council meant scanning through hundreds of names at the polling station itself. Posters with names and codes covered every wall of most polling stations. You had to look carefully, find your candidates, write down their codes, and then vote. Most voters had scrap paper and pens that they carried with them from poster to poster.
It’s a wonder that so many people voted in the city’s elections and that so many ballots were cast correctly.