Israel Election Board Curbs Parties’ Access to Information on September’s Vote

Committee said it provided some political parties less access to minutes from precincts after they violated disclosure restrictions

Counting the vote in the Knesset election, Sept. 17, 2019.
Emil Salman

In a break from prior practice, the Central Elections Committee has provided the political parties that ran in last month’s Knesset election with only partial records from the precincts around the country on the conduct of the vote.

Sources from several parties have said the partial records provided to them of the September 17 Knesset election make it difficult for them to track exactly how the vote was conducted at each of the country’s election precincts. For its part, however, the Central Elections Committee said that because some parties had in the past shared the minutes with individuals who were not permitted by law to have access to them, they were only given the page with the results. Specific requests could be made for specific sets of minutes, which will then be assessed, the election committee added.

In the past, the parties received scanned copies of the entire set of minutes from each precinct, giving them the opportunity to look for anomalies in the vote that might be the result of improprieties. In August, Haaretz published an investigative report on the conduct of last April’s Knesset election showing that the vote was marked by a number of irregularities.

The vote at each precinct is overseen by a precinct secretary employed by the Central Elections Committee as well as representatives of political parties. The portion of the precinct minutes provided to the parties after the September election included the names of the party representatives and a page with the number of votes that each party received at the precinct.

According to party sources, pages with results that they were provided were detached from the rest of the minutes, which made it difficult for them to link the parts together. Various forms signed by officials at the polling stations were also not included.

The sources said the parties were not allowed to see remarks written in the minutes, among them reports by members of the precinct committees regarding any problems and suspected irregularities. In its investigative report in August, Haaretz said such remarks have generally been ignored.

Central Elections Commiitee chairman Hanan Melcer
Emil Salman

The party sources said the party representatives who received the scanned materials were required to sign a declaration that they would not disclose their contents. The Central Election Committee said this was done to protect the right to privacy, but even pages not containing private information, such as the page stating how many people voted at each precinct, were not provided and were treated as confidential. A request by Haaretz to see the minutes was quickly declined on the grounds that the Freedom of Information law exempts election documents.

Privacy laws

For its part, the Central Election Committee said the parties received two files, including one with all the pages of the minutes relating to the presence of members of precinct committees, including personal details of tens of thousands of members of precinct committees and their party affiliation. Privacy laws bar the release of these details and the party representatives were therefore asked to sign a pledge not to disclose them, the committee said, adding that the parties also received a second file containing every page of the election results from all the precincts.

Haaretz’s August investigative report followed claims by an election watchdog group, Mishmar Habehirot Haezrahi, of irregularities in the conduct of the April Knesset vote. Haaretz found that oversight at polling stations was lax; reports of irregularities at dozens of precincts were not investigated; that party representatives on precinct committees violated procedure in filling out required forms; and at more than 1,000 precincts, there was no representative of opposition parties. There were also instances in which United Torah Judaism and the Joint List agreed to swap representation on the committees.

A change for the better

In last month’s election, which was held after the April Knesset vote left no party after to form a majority government, it was apparent that Central Election Committee had dealt with many of the deficiencies reported by Haaretz in connection with the April vote, but there were questionable instances in September as well that have not been investigated. For example, observers for the Labor Party found 44 cases of people fraudulently claiming to be Labor Party observers, and suspicions were raised that United Torah Judaism paid them to do so.