Likud Telling Polling Stations Monitors to Collect Voter Data to Get Out Vote

While the technique is not illegal, technology makes it even more a threat to voter privacy

Hagai Amit
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A polling station in Rosh Ha'ayin, Israel, April 9, 2019.
A polling station in Rosh Ha'ayin, Israel, April 9, 2019. Credit: Moti Milrod
Hagai Amit

Given that there is no precedent for do-over elections, it’s hard to estimate the degree to which voter turnout on September 17 will be affected. The parties’ challenge will be to overcome voter antagonism and apathy and get people to the polls. (For the latest election polls - click here)

This sense of urgency is evident in the instruction sheet the ruling Likud party has distributed to its thousands of polling-station representatives throughout the country. The instructions focus on operating a special app that Likud developed and that was already used during the April election. The instructions state, “The Likud representative has two jobs: Updating every voter who comes in the Likud’s election app and supervising what’s happening at the polling station.”

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Among other things, the representative “must update in the app every eligible voter who came to the polling station by finding their name in the app, pressing on the red ‘Didn’t vote’ button and turning it to green, ‘Voted.’ Any problem in the updating process should be immediately reported to central headquarters by WhatsApp.”

>> Read more: Last election was riddled with irregularities and suspected voting fraud | Haaretz Investigation ■ Israel now a key battleground in the global clash of liberal democracy and its enemies | Opinion

The purpose is to be able to compare the field reports to lists of registered party supporters and see whether they’ve come to vote. If not, they will get a phone call urging them to do so.

Likud has decided not to leave the reporting to chance, and stresses, “It is the responsibility of every representative who can’t use the app to forward to the central headquarters WhatsApp group Form 1000, on which the voters are marked, every 20 minutes.”

Kahol Lavan has a similar system, but based on information collected from supporters during the last election campaign and at campaign events. They use a much more limited database than Likud’s.

The Central Elections Committee says that getting out the vote in this fashion is a long-standing practice and is not illegal. But what in the past was done in an amateurish fashion by hand has morphed into the constant collection of digital data. Even if the practice does not violate voter confidentiality, the decision whether to vote or not is meant to be private, and undermining that privacy puts pressure on the citizen. For example, if someone works at a place where the union has been urging workers to vote for a certain party, sitting the election out might subject a worker to payback.

People walk by election campaign billboards showing Israeli Prime Minister and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu, left, alongside Kachol Lavan party leaders. Tel Aviv, Israel, April 3, 2019Credit: Oded Balilty,AP

The Likud technique is therefore problematic, especially since the instructions do not explicitly state that identity numbers, which are used for everything in Israel, or the voter lists at the polls cannot be used to collect information.

“When looking at this database, we touch on the question of whether the very fact of deciding whether to vote is a political position,” says Dr. Tehilla Schwartz Altschuler of the Israel Democracy Institute. “If we’re talking about a political position, then the database we’re referring to contains sensitive information. It should be registered with the Justice Ministry and not used except for the purpose for which the database was established. The party representatives are at the polls to monitor election fraud, and should be able to collect information only for that purpose. They aren’t there to motivate voters.”

Likud said in response, “We are not discussing the campaign.”