Voter Fatigue? This 18-year-old Israeli Will Be Voting for the Fifth Time in March

Thanks to a fluke of circumstances (and Benjamin Netanyahu), Aviv Barkan is already fully acquainted with exercising her democratic right at the ballot box

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Aviv Barkan in her hometown of Lehavim, southern Israel. “The national elections were a big disappointment for me,” says Barkan.
Aviv Barkan in her hometown of Lehavim, southern Israel. “The national elections were a big disappointment for me,” says Barkan.Credit: Eliahu Hershkovitz
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Aviv Barkan is 18. In other countries, freshly minted high school graduates like her might consider themselves lucky if they got to vote even once the same year they became eligible. Yet on March 2 – 25 days before she celebrates her 19th birthday – this young Israeli woman will be heading to the polls for the fifth time.

How did that happen? Chalk it up to a fluke of circumstances.

Although national elections in Israel are meant to be held every four years, it is rare that a Knesset survives a full term, often dissolving itself before the next scheduled election. But never before has Israel held two elections – and certainly not three – within the space of one year. The reason it reached this situation is that both the April 9 election and the “do-over” election on September 17 ended in stalemates, with neither of the two big parties – Likud or Kahol Lavan – able to form a government.

In Israel, a citizen is eligible to vote once he or she turns 18. For an 18-year-old like Barkan to be voting for the third time in a year, she would have had to turn 18 before April 9, 2019. Since she was born on March 27, 2001, she made the cut by barely two weeks.

By the time Barkan voted in her first national election, she had already voted twice in municipal elections. How did that happen? Israel’s municipal elections are held every five years. The last one was on October 30, 2018. In Israel, a citizen is eligible to vote in municipal elections once he or she turns 17. Barkan was already that age when the municipal elections were held. Furthermore, according to Israel’s municipal election laws, to be elected mayor, a candidate must win at least 40 percent of the vote: If a candidate does not pass that threshold, a do-over election is held. In numerous cities and towns around Israel, such elections were held on November 13, 2018 – two weeks after the first round.

Barkan lives in Lehavim, a small, affluent community in the Negev desert, about 15 kilometers (9 miles) north of Be’er Sheva. Five candidates ran for mayor in the first round but because no one won 40 percent of the vote, a second round between the two leading candidates was required. Barkan voted both times.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voting in Jerusalem in the "do-over" election, September 17, 2019.Credit: Alex Kolomoisky

The oldest of three sisters, this young Israeli seems to take it all in her stride.

“Election Days are great for me,” she says of the national ballots. “Since it’s officially a day off, people who work get paid double. I work as a cashier in the local supermarket, so for me it’s an opportunity to make some extra money.” On the last Election Day, for example, she says she earned 600 shekels ($173) for her efforts.

The municipal elections, she reports, served as a good initiation into one of the basic cornerstones of democracy. “I voted for the same candidate in both rounds – and he’s the one who ended up winning,” she says. Her candidate was Yossi Nissan, who ran as an independent but won the support of the national Labor Party.

She didn’t feel her vote mattered as much in the national elections, though. In the first round last April, Barkan voted for Kahol Lavan, which won 35 seats – just like Likud – but had little to no shot at forming a government. In the second round, she voted for Yisrael Beiteinu – the party headed by Avigdor Lieberman that ran on a platform of fighting religious coercion.

Lieberman had vowed to exploit his presumed role as kingmaker to force both big parties, which were again running neck and neck, into a national unity government after the election. He failed, so Israel is heading for its third round.

“The national elections were a big disappointment for me,” says Barkan.

Asked whom she will be voting for on March 2, she says: “I have no idea. The only thing I know for sure is that I’ll be voting.”

Barkan graduated from an agricultural high school in the Negev last June, and in September will be performing a year of national service (in lieu of serving in the military).

Are her younger sisters jealous that she’s gotten to vote so many times at her age? She brushes off the question. “They have little interest in politics, so they could care less.”

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