COVID-19 Complicates Israel's Election: 'Don't Ask Me How We're Going to Do It,' Says Top Official

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Vote counting in the central Israeli town of Shoham, March 2019.
Vote counting in the central Israeli town of Shoham, March 2019.Credit: Moti Milrod
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The director of Israel’s Central Elections Committee said Monday that the general election scheduled for March will cost at least 120 million shekels ($37 million) more than the last one, in March 2020, due to additional expenses related to compliance with coronavirus regulations.

“The main difficulty is the uncertainty factor,” Orly Adas said at a briefing for members of the media. “No one can say how many infected people and how many people in quarantine there will be on March 23.”

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The committee is expected to increase the number of polling places from 11,000 to 14,000 – some of which will be reserved for voters who are in quarantine or who tested positive for the virus – and to reduce the number of voters assigned to each.

In March of this year, 18 polling places were opened for 4,500 people in quarantine, but more caution is now considered necessary.

Vote-counting also promises to be a challenge. By law, all votes must be tallied within eight days after the election. The week-long Passover holiday, which begins four days after Election Day, could affect the work, which is expected to be greater than usual due to the greater number of special, “double envelope” ballots that are anticipated. These include the votes of hospital patients.

“Don’t ask me how we’re going to do it,” Adas said. She added that several possible solutions are being evaluated, including having members of the military vote five days earlier and increasing the number of vote counters.

At the briefing, the committee introduced a new type of ballot box for people in quarantine that will be used in mobile drive-thru polls. The committee is making preparations for voting in nursing homes and hospitals. Adas said people who cannot leave their beds will presumably be unable to vote.

The pandemic will alter the traditional rite of parties submitting their candidate slates to the committee. Only a few representatives from each party will participate “live,” and only one party at a time will be allowed in the room.

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