Israel Election: Officials Fear COVID Regulations May Stir Confusion, Slow Vote Count

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A Kahol Lavan campaign poster.
A Kahol Lavan campaign poster.Credit: Hadas Parush

Tuesday’s election required the Central Elections Committee to make extensive arrangements costing hundreds of millions of shekels to allow all eligible voters their right to vote, even if they have COVID-19 or are in quarantine. But these arrangements have raised concerns of overcrowding and confusion. They are also likely to slow down that vote count because of the large number of votes being cast in double envelopes.

At first the election committee had estimated the number of ill and quarantined voters at 87,000. But the marked reduction in the infection rates in recent weeks changed that; now the committee estimates that on Election Day there will be only 12,000 voters ill with COVID-19 and 39,000 people in quarantine. As a result, some planned voting stations – like those in hospital coronavirus wards that have since closed – are not opening.

Still, the committee is concerned about possible overcrowding at those voting stations meant for the ill and quarantined, only a few of which will be opened in every city or town. The committee said drones will be deployed over the access routes to these voting stations and that voters might be diverted to other stations if need be.

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The committee will be operating special transportation to these polling places. There will also be 50 buses serving as voting stations that can be sent to areas with exceptional overcrowding. In addition to the nearly 1,400 voting stations for the ill and isolated, there will be voting stations at Ben-Gurion International Airport for Israelis returning from abroad who must go into quarantine.

One of the main challenges the committee faced was recruiting workers for the polling stations. As in past years, only on Election Day will it be clear whether the committee succeeded in manning all the polls, because many people who register to sit on polling station committees disappear at the last minute. The committee had said specifically it was having difficulty staffing the polling stations for coronavirus victims.

To reduce overcrowding, many polling stations had their voters split between two locations. As a result, many people have been assigned to vote in a different location than in past elections – and may only discover this upon arriving to vote, perhaps even after standing on a line in the wrong place. It’s hard to know how many people might simply go home without voting if this happens.

Precautions against infection are also being taken at regular polling stations. Of the 237 million shekels ($72 million) allocated specifically for preparing to vote during the pandemic, 17 million shekels are going to clean the bathrooms in the buildings where voting is taking place. Voters will be required to sanitize their hands twice before going behind the barrier to cast their ballot.

Police said Sunday that they are keeping special watch on 400 polling stations where they say there is a high possibility of voter fraud. Fraud detectives will be stationed near these polling places to be called upon if needed.

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