Ballots in Buses: Israel Readies for Another Election in Shadow of COVID

Central Elections Committee budgets over $60 million for special coronavirus arrangements on Election Day, including transportation for patients and converting buses into polling stations

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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A specially designed polling station for coronavirus patients and those in quarantine.
One of the specially designed polling stations for coronavirus patients and those in quarantine.Credit: Haim Levy
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Central Elections Committee will be spending 20 million shekels ($6 million) on transportation to bring COVID-19 patients to special polling stations to vote in the March 23 Knesset election, the election committee’s director general, Orly Ades, said Monday. The election committee is preparing to accommodate some 40,000 coronavirus patients at the special polling stations, she said.

According to Health Ministry data, 37,698 Israelis are currently infected with the coronavirus.

On Monday, the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee approved 674 million shekels in funding for the election committee, of which 237 million is earmarked for the special arrangements necessary to hold an election during the coronavirus pandemic. Ades said dozens of buses will be turned into voting stations for people who are in quarantine.

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The elections committee, she said, still lacks thousands of staffers for polling stations designated for coronavirus patients and those in quarantine. Ades called on rescue service workers, health care workers and medical students to help fill the gap.

The committee is also examining ways to allow people returning from abroad to vote at Ben Gurion International Airport before they go into quarantine, she noted. She expressed the hope that the ballots cast on Election Day will be fully counted within two days – prior to the Passover weekend – even though the number of those voting away from the precincts where they are registered, including soldiers, diplomats abroad, prisoners and hospital patients, in addition to those in quarantine and isolation, will nearly double from 330,000 to 600,000. The committee is still working on procedures for counting the ballots and ensuring the integrity of the count, she added.

Due to the pandemic, the total number of polling stations will be significantly increased to reduce crowding – from 11,000 in last year’s election to 14,000 this time around. Based on a preliminary estimate, it is expected that 25 million shekels will be allocated to the cost of protective equipment and disinfectant at the polling stations.

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