Israeli Election for Dummies: How Votes Become Seats

It’s not that hard: the Bader-Ofer method for distributing Knesset seats.

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How are voting percentages translated into Knesset seats?

The Central Elections Committee tallies the votes from polling stations throughout the country, then translates these results into Knesset seats.

As soon as the polling stations close, the tallying begins. Once the count is completed and disqualified ballots are discarded, the committee calculates the number of votes needed to cross the 2 percent threshold.

Once the number of votes reflecting the 2-percent threshold has been set, the votes cast for parties that fail to cross the threshold are discarded. The remaining votes are now divided by 120 (this quotient is called the gauge).

Each party receives seats proportionately in round figures. However, this produces less than 120 seats.

So in addition to the round figures, the parties win surplus votes that produce additional Knesset seats for parties according to a guideline set under the Bader-Ofer Law. The guideline also takes into account so-called surplus vote agreements that some parties have signed before the election.

What is the Bader-Ofer Law?

The Bader-Ofer Law presents a formula for figuring out the surplus votes the various parties won and re-dividing them into Knesset seats. The calculation takes into account how many votes each party won in the election and the surplus vote agreement it may have signed with another party.

In practice, this law favors the larger parties and usually gives them an additional Knesset seat at the expense of smaller parties. The formula in the law is based on the relationship between the number of seats a party has already been allocated, plus 1. The parties with the most surplus votes are allocated the extra seats left over for distribution.

Surplus vote agreements

Every slate vying for Knesset seats is entitled to sign a surplus vote agreement with another slate before the election. Signing such an agreement increases a slate’s chances of securing an extra Knesset seat under the Bader-Ofer Law.

Under this law, two slates that signed a surplus vote agreement will be considered a joint slate when the seat distribution is being worked out. This means, for example, that the number of votes won by Likud-Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi, which have signed a surplus vote agreement, will be combined. They thus stand a better chance of being allocated an extra seat because of their size.

Which parties have signed surplus vote agreements before the election?

The Labor Party with Yesh Atid; Hatnuah with Meretz; Likud-Beiteinu with Habayit Hayehudi; Kadima with Am Shalem; Shas with United Torah Judaism; Hadash with Balad; and the Dor party with Tzedek Hevrati (Social Justice).

Who is the law named after?

The law was proposed by MKs Yohanan Bader and Avraham Ofer, and the Knesset passed it in 1973. Until the early 1970s, all surplus votes were amassed in a kind of central register and the parties received extra seats based on the number of surplus votes they were left with. The two largest parties, Likud and the Labor Alignment, initiated the change in the law in 1969. This change increased their chances of being able to divide up surplus votes.

An election employee preparing voting slips at a polling booth in southern Israel on Monday.Credit: Reuters
Some of what you need to know about voting today.Credit: Haaretz

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