Israeli Election Math: Who Can Vote, When and Where?

Over 5.8 million citizens are eligible to cast a ballot in over 10,300 polling stations in the country and the West Bank, at a cost 241.7 million shekels. The numbers tell all.

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On March 17, aside from finding the nearest Irish pub to mark St. Patrick’s Day, citizens who are 18 years old and over across Israel will be casting their vote in the election for the 20th Knesset. The big decision Israelis have to make is whether to stick with incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – in power for six years – or to switch horses, so to speak. 

Netanyahu, whose campaign has stressed that he a safeguard against the left, against Iran, and even against the Islamic State, has faced his greatest challenge from the Zionist Union, led by Labor’s Isaac Herzog and Hatnuah’s Tzipi Livni. Recent polls have been favorable to this new party, but that is no guarantee of anything, as anyone who has observed Israel’s electoral process can testify. 

So, how many people are eligible to vote on Election Day? At how many polling stations? And for how many candidates? The answers are in the numbers: 

25 - The number of party tickets in the running

There are 25 lists of candidates registered to run in the election for the 20th Knesset. Six of those slates comprise names from a number of parties that have united in order to improve their chances at the polls. United Torah Judaism, for example, is made up of the ultra-Orthodox parties Agudat Israel and Degel HaTorah. They have been running together since the 13th Knesset election in 1992. Notable newcomers this time round are the Joint List, combining Hadash and three Arab parties, and the above-mentioned Zionist Union. 

1,280 - The total number of people on the tickets

There are 1,280 people listed on all the slates put together. The prize for the shortest list did go to the one-man party Protecting Our Children – Stopping to Feed Them Pornography, but that lone anti-porn crusader withdrew from the running last Wednesday. The maximum number of candidates on a slate is 120, which is the total number of seats in the Knesset. This year, parties including Meretz, the Joint List and Yesh Atid have 120 names on their ticket. 

5.8 million - The number of Israelis who can cast their vote

There are 5,881,696 Israelis (citizens over the age of 18) who are eligible to vote on Tuesday, according to the Central Election Committee. Of these, around 5.3 million reside in Israel. Of these, 80 percent are Jewish, 15 percent are Arab (Muslims, Druze or Christians), and 5 percent are defined as “others,” according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. The total number of eligible voters has increased by 4 percent since the January 2013 elections for the 19th Knesset, when there were 5,656,705 eligible voters. Of those, 3,833,646 actually cast their vote – a voter turnout of 67.8 percent. 

10,372 - The number of regular polling stations

Polling stations will be set up at 10,372 schools, youth centers and other venues around Israel proper, and across the Green Line in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, on Tuesday. Israel Defense Forces soldiers started voting on Sunday; there are over 600 polling stations at army bases, in addition to mobile stations for soldiers in remote areas. For prisoners, detainees and prison service staff, there will be 57 stations in prisons and detention centers, and 196 will also be set up in hospitals. There are 2,693 polling stations that provide access to the physically disabled, and a further 1,548 stations with “special access” for people with limited mobility. Israelis vote by placing a ballot slip representing their party of choice in an envelope, and placing that envelope inside a ballot box. The polls open at 7 A.M. and close at 10 P.M. The ballots will be counted manually at polling stations or Central Election Committee regional headquarters overnight. The results are usually compiled by the next morning.  

98 - The cities where (some) Israelis can vote around the world

For most Israelis living abroad, participating in the election on March 17 involves buying a plane ticket to cast their vote in Israel. However, Israeli civil servants, including soldiers, and employees of the Jewish Agency, World Zionist Organization, Jewish National Fund and Keren Hayesod who are abroad were permitted to cast a ballot at diplomatic missions in 98 cities worldwide, from Bangkok, to Belgrade, to Buenos Aires, on March 5. 

3.25 - The minimum proportion of votes a party needs to get into the Knesset

The electoral threshold, or minimum percentage of votes needed to get a seat in the Knesset, was raised in March, 2014 from 2 to 3.25 percent. Until the election for the 13th Knesset, in 1992, the threshold was 1 percent. This rose to 2 percent in advance of the election for the 16th Knesset in 2003. On Election Day itself, after all valid votes are counted, the Central Elections Committee will calculate what 3.25 percent of the total number of votes is. Any slates that receive less than this amount will be discounted, as will their votes. The votes that are left over are then divided by 120 (the number of Knesset seats); that number, known as “the gauge,” becomes the indicator for the number of votes needed per seat in parliament; party slates will be given seats according to this number. Usually, however, less than 120 Knesset seats are distributed through this method. To make sure the full 120 are assigned, something called the Bader-Ofer method is used to divide up the remainder. According to this system, the number of valid votes each slate receives is divided by the number of seats it has been assigned so far plus one. The party that gets the highest number of votes per seat after this calculation gets another seat. Then it's rinse and repeat until the full 120 seats have been distributed. 

241.7 million shekels - What all this is costing

The Central Elections Committee, the body in charge of running the election, overseeing parties and candidate lists, tallying and calculating the vote and giving us the news the day after the election, has a budget of 241,746,000 shekels ($59.7 million) for this financial year, which covers among other things manning all the polling stations and stocking them with ballots. During the election for the 19th Knesset in 2013, the budget was NIS 247 million.