Beit Shemesh Mayor Appeals Election Disqualification to High Court

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Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul filed a request to the Supreme Court Thursday to appeal last month’s disqualification of the local election results, which had given him victory.

Eli Cohen, a secular candidate, narrowly lost to the ultra-Orthodox Abutbul in October’s balloting. But about two weeks ago the Jerusalem District Court ruled that a new mayoral election be held, after accepting appeals by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and Cohen against the election results.

The appellants argued that police found voting irregularities before and during the election, raising strong suspicion that Abutbul’s victory was obtained illegally.

The mayor’s request, submitted by attorney Yaakov Weinroth, criticizes the district court’s decision to annul the election results, mainly because only 36 votes were proved to be illegal.

“To disqualify the mayor’s election, no less than 956 invalid ballot tickets were required,” the appeal request says. “Any fewer than that would not have resulted in victory for the rival contender.”

Abutbul’s request says the ID cards allegedly used to forge votes, which the state says belonged to members of a fanatic Haredi sect, would not have gone to Cohen anyway. “What must be proved is that about 1,000 people succeeded in disguising themselves and outwitting all the supervision mechanisms,” the request contends.

Abutbul claims that the forged votes, if there were any, were part of an internal ultra-Orthodox struggle, namely the attempt of a new Haredi party to attract votes from the veteran factions. The illegal votes therefore had no effect on the mayoral results, he argues.

The district court had ruled that the matter of the ID cards alone was enough to strike down the election results, even without the irregularities cited in Cohen’s appeal for new elections.

On election day, police raided two apartments in Beit Shemesh, seizing 170 ID cards suspected of being used for illegal voting. They also seized items of clothing suspected of being “disguises” intended to mislead the polling committee members. At least 36 of the ID cards that were seized had actually been used for voting, police said.

Another issue raised in the appeal was the large number of address changes during the period before the elections. The appellants claimed they were made by fictitious residents who registered in the city in order to vote. The appellants also cited additional irregularities, including voters who discovered someone else had voted in their name and that Shas used forbidden election tactics, such as threats and promises.

Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul.Credit: Michal Fattal

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