Blustery Weather Wraps Up Stormy Campaign Season

At the moment of truth, it will not be the election ads, the consultants, the slogans or the billboards that will decide the elections.

Apparently, it will be the rain, as elections are held in what is to be the most wintry day in the past two months.

After weeks of neck-and-neck campaigning, the last lap is here, and with it rain, wind, hail and even snow in many parts of the country.

Cold air from Italy is expected to sweep into the Mediterranean over 24 hours, dropping temperatures to below 20 in the coastal region and close to 10 degrees and less in Jerusalem and the Galilee.

In the face of the bad weather, good organization by the various parties to get people to the polls has become particularly important.

If the election is close, the final results will not be known before Thursday afternoon, after the ballots of soldiers and absentee ballots are counted.

About 5,279,000 Israelis will be able to cast their ballots today - five percent more than during the last election.

The main vote count will be completed tomorrow morning, but some 150,000 absentee ballots will be counted only on Thursday.

These include soldiers, police, sailors, diplomats, poll station secretaries, hospital patients and prisoners.

Since the soldiers' votes make up the bulk of the absentee ballots, they could give one or two Knesset seats to Lieberman at the expense of the other parties. The official election results will be published up to eight days after the elections, and only then will President Shimon Peres be able to begin consultations with the factions for forming a government.

A low voter turnout is expected mainly in the Arab community and among young people, due in part to meager public interest, indifference and the stormy forecast.

By the end of the 1990s Israelis had a relatively high voter turnout, around 80 percent. This plunged in the 2003 election to 69 percent and in the last elections fell to 63.5 percent.

The Knesset's vote percentage threshold is two percent, equivalent to some 63,000 votes in the last election.

Elections will be held in 9,263 polling stations, which will open at 7 A.M., with most closing at 10 P.M, while stations in communities of fewer than 350 voters will close at 8 P.M.

Blank slips are available in the voting booths so that voters can write on them the letters of the party of their choice, in case their party's slips are missing. Slips with nothing on them will be disqualified, as will more than one slip in an envelope.

Voters can find out their designated voting station by calling 1-800-200-131 or through the government Web site. Former Gush Katif residents who have not changed their addresses can vote at station 990 at the Shevah Mofet school on 20 Hatzafira Street in Tel Aviv.