Israel Mulls Drive-thru Voting in Case of Early Election

Challenge of holding an election amid the coronavirus pandemic is enormous, official says, as bill to dissolve Knesset one week away from second of four parliamentary votes

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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A polling station set up for local elections in Tel Mond, near Netanya, amid the coronavirus pandemic, November 2020.
A polling station set up for local elections in Tel Mond, near Netanya, amid the coronavirus pandemic, November 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Israel’s Central Election Committee is considering the possibility of setting up drive-thru polling stations, similar to drive-thru coronavirus testing centers, in the event an early election is held amid the pandemic, Committee Director Orly Ades said on Tuesday.

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“The challenge of holding an election during the coronavirus pandemic is enormous,” Ades told a session of the Knesset’s State Control Committee. The elections board would need at least 90 days to prepare for such a vote, Ades said, adding that local authorities had until now been uncooperative.

The committee has received “very few responses” to requests for information about additional buildings that might be available to increase the national capacity and open separate polling stations for people in isolation, Ades said.

A Knesset session, Jerusalem, December 2020.Credit: Dani Shem Tov / Knesset

State Control Committee Chairman Ofer Shelah of opposition party Yesh Atid-Telem, which tabled the bill to dissolved the parliament, asked Ades if the board was examining any other voting alternatives, such as mail-in ballots. She replied that countries that have held elections during the pandemic did not create any new models or expand their existing systems. “When you’re about to hold an election is not the time to revolutionize the system,” she said.

The bill to dissolve the Knesset won preliminary approval and is currently being discussed by the Knesset’s House Committee, before it goes back to the plenum for three more votes. Committee Chairman Eitan Ginzburg, a lawmaker with Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan, said on Tuesday he hoped the next vote would take place on Monday, but this could be hurried or delayed, depending on discussions within the coalition with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kahol Lavan voted for the bill in the preliminary vote, in a move that was widely seen as an attempt to put pressure on the prime minister. The two coalition partners have been at loggerheads over the issue of the state budget.

The Knesset will be dissolved automatically if the budget for 2020 is not passed by December 23. In this scenario, the election could be held three months later, as opposed to five months if Israelis head back to the polls because of the new bill.

The new election date if the budget is not passed would be March 23, which is problematic because it falls just three days before Passover, so a full vote count would be delayed. Ginzburg said.