Israeli Ministers Pushing to Allow Political Parties to Film at Polling Stations

Proposed bill the attorney general opposes before September vote follows directive by election board that allows the filming of the vote count, but not by party officials

Ballot boxes brought to Central Elections Committee headquarters on Election Day on April 9, 2019.
Emil Salman

Israel's government coalition is promoting legislation that would let political party representatives sent to oversee the vote to film at their polling stations on Election Day on September 17.

The move is in response to a directive this week from Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, who chairs the Central Elections Committee, permitting filming of the counting of the ballots after voting is over but not by the party representatives at the polling stations. The systematic use of cameras at polling stations requires legislation, Melcer said.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is expected to announce that due to the short time left until Election Day "an appropriate legislation process [to allow filming at polling station] cannot be carried out."

Nevertheless, Mandelblit believes that the promotion of the bill is proper, and should be enshrined in law. However, the attorney general is yet to deliver his official position on the bill. Mandelblit is expected to deliver his position before the bill is presented to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.

he interior and justice ministries are working on draft legislation on the subject on the chance the government will attempt to have it passed before Election Day, which is less than three weeks away.

Both Ministries distributed a memo of the bill, giving the public ten days to present its stance on the matter.

A high-ranking source involved in the efforts told Haaretz that getting it passed is possible, but admitted that chances were slim.

Draft legislation obtained by Haaretz would not permit filming anything that would indicate the party for which a specific citizen voted. Portions of the draft of the bill that Haaretz obtained would permit members of precinct committees, precinct observers and Central Election Committee employees to film or make a sound recording of "anything that they are authorized to view or to listen to." It would not permit filming the actual vote at the voting booths.

Precinct committees consist of a non-partisan secretary who is a Central Elections Committee employee and representatives of the political parties, who are selected with an effort to have them reflect a balance across the political spectrum. The parties are also authorized to appoint observers at each precinct.

The draft bill would permit filming or recording preparations at the precinct prior to voting and those who come to vote as well as those accompanying them. It would allow filming the counting of the ballots, the tallying of the vote count and the preparation of materials after the vote that are to be shipped to the Central Elections Committee. It would also allow recording conversations with those "seeking to vote at a polling place or in the vicinity."

Sources from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party have told Haaretz that passage of such legislation would be legally permissible and would not be overturned if challenged in court. It doesn’t involve changing the rules of the game in the middle of an election, they argue, saying the law would be aimed at ensuring the integrity of the vote. Justice Melcer himself made reference to the passage of such legislation, they noted.

The Likud party has said in the past that use of the cameras could prevent fraud at polling places in Arab communities. Critics of the move said it would deter Arab citizens from turning out to vote.

Passage of such a law would require that the text of the legislation be published in advance for public comment prior to the first of three Knesset votes on the bill. The Knesset would then be required to appoint a special committee to consider it before the second and third Knesset votes, which would also require the governing coalition to come to understandings to garner political support for the move.

But any petitions filed with the High Court of Justice might also delay its implementation until after the coming election.