Israel's AG Urges Court to Hold New Beit Shemesh Elections Due to Voter Fraud

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Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein on Wednesday appealed the Beit Shemesh election results to the Jerusalem District Court, saying that the police investigation of alleged voter fraud had turned up strong evidence of forgery and deception aimed at influencing the outcome.

“The findings of the investigation paint a serious picture of systematic, deliberate, organized and institutionalized criminal activity, which involved dozens of people and in which great economic resources were invested,” said Weinstein’s appeal, which was submitted by Jerusalem District Attorney (Civil) Liora Havilyo. “All this was done with the intention of changing the election results, and on the assumption that these actions could indeed change them.”

The statement to the court also noted that attempts were made to influence the election results through "party activists, who impersonated other people and voted for the party they worked for and for their preferred candidate for mayor." It continued that the activists "appeared at the polling stations (at times in disguise), and posed as eligible voters who, for ideological and other reasons, had chosen not to exercise their right to vote, or had not yet managed to exercise this right.”

Earlier in the day, a similar appeal was submitted by opposition factions in the city, among them Eli Cohen, the secular candidate for mayor who lost to incumbent Shas Mayor Moshe Abutbul by 965 votes. Cohen had asked to void the election results and hold new elections.

The fact that Weinstein has also appealed is seen as greatly increasing the chances that a new election will be called.

The opposition appeal detailed the different manners of forgery and fraud allegedly committed. The first cited was evidence that masses of non-resident Haredim had changed their addresses to locations in Beit Shemesh, although they hadn’t actually moved there. This allegation was checked by comparing the voter rolls for the Knesset election in January to the rolls for the local election last month. It was found that in nine months more than 4,000 people had been added to the rolls, not including 17-year-olds, who can vote in local elections but not for Knesset. At least some of the addresses of the new arrivals were immediately found to be false, like the 17 people registered as living at an address where a factory is located.

Other allegations included: The forging of identity cards and the use of other people’s identity cards; illegal election propaganda that included threats and promises; improper conduct by the Interior Ministry official in charge of the Beit Shemesh elections, who is identified with Shas, and did not properly investigate irregularities and fraud claims; vote counting that did not meet the legal requirements, which call for two members of the polling station committee to conduct separate counts of the votes; and the theft of voting slips bearing Eli Cohen’s name, to the extent that thousands of new slips had to be printed on the afternoon of election day, even though substantial reserves had been prepared.

Abutbul responded by saying, “We respect and rely on the legal authorities to examine every suspicion of pinpoint irregularities here and there. The mayor regrets the conduct of political elements who refuse to accept the will of the voters and ignore the rules of democracy.”

Beit Shemesh protest against alleged voter fraud in early November. Sign reads: "Beit Shemesh is multi-cultural / not Haredi"Credit: Olivier Fitussi

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