Israel Spent Nearly $5 Million on Cameras on Election Day – and Recorded 15 Incidents

The Central Election Committee hired some 3,500 polling station inspectors with about 3,000 cameras – which were used to document only 15 incidents

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Lawyers count ballot envelopes and check ballot box protocol in an initiative to ensure election integrity, September 24, 2019.
Lawyers count ballot envelopes and check ballot box protocol in an initiative to ensure election integrity, September 24, 2019.Credit: Emil Salman

As contention brewed over the question of filming in polling places, the Central Election Committee spent about 17 million shekels ($4.8 million), hired about 3,500 inspectors and equipped them with about 3,000 body cameras leading up to last week's election – which were only used in 15 cases.  

In response to election transparency concerns that dominated the political agenda – and a Likud campaign warning of mass voter fraud in Arab areas – the committee sent inspectors to nearly every locality in the country on Election Day. Even so, the inspectors only used their body cameras to document 15 incidents.    

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The committee turned down requests from another 10 inspectors to film events inside polling places, saying the specific incidents reported did not justify filming. In thousands of polling stations that were chosen in advance, all the cameras were turned on after voting ended to document the counting process.

The director of the Central Election Committee, Orly Ades, said that placing inspectors outfitted with cameras in polling stations helped establish a sense of calm. "There were expectations for a very turbulent, tense, problematic day," Ades said. The presence of inspectors deterred potential fraud: “Show me a person who tried to do something illegal when there's a human tripod standing in front of them, documenting everything,” said Ades.

Although she declined to refer to it by name, Ades admitted that without the Likud campaign, which called the Central Election Committee's ability to guarantee a clean election into question, they never would have been able to implement such a large-scale plan for filming in polling stations in just three weeks. April's election "left us with a bad taste in our mouths," she said. "There was an incentive to prove that we can do what we know how to do."

Inspectors coordinated their work on Election Day through an application, which crashed during the voting – attesting to how actively it was used. Before it crashed, inspectors reported some 50,000 visits to polling places, meaning each made four or five visits to every station they were assigned to supervise.

In the past few days, a thousand cameras have been returned to the police, and the others are stored in a safe in the committee's offices in the Knesset, along with their recordings. Ades said she is certain the camera debate will not be put to rest, and legislation may be a possibility going forward, “but if someone needs to do it, it is the Central Election Committee, not political parties.”

The committee has also identified 1,100 people who voted even though they are not entitled to so – or are not Israeli citizens at all. Another 600 people voted in two polling places, exploiting the arrangement that allows disabled people to vote anywhere in the country, regardless of the polling station in which they are registered. Ninety more people voted in three or more stations. All of these votes were invalidated.

A week after elections, the committee has identified only 15 polling stations, in Yarka and Sakhnin, that raised suspicions of voter fraud, which will be investigated by the police. This figure is not final; the committee received dozens of complaints from its inspectors on Election Day, and about 200 more from party representatives.

That does not mean that every complaint is an egregious violation, Ades clarified. "These kinds of reports can include complaints from polling station board members claiming that other members spoke Arabic in front of them and they don’t understand what they said."

The committee is still working intensively to finish counting all the ballots – and identifying the fraudulent ones – from the 15 problematic polling stations before the release of the final election results on Wednesday.