Israeli Election Panel Chief Bars Use of Cameras at Polling Stations

Justice's decision comes after Likud activists placed cameras at Arab polling stations in Israel's last election in a move that was slammed as attempt at voter suppression

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
Cameras installed by activists near Arab polling stations.
Cameras installed by activists near Arab polling stations. Credit: Hadash Spokesperson's Office
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The chairman of the Israeli Central Election Committee, Justice Hanan Melcer, forbade on Monday the placement of cameras at polling stations on Election Day. Melcer did permit representatives of the committee to document the vote count process on September 17.

Melcer's decision echoes that of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, who stated in an opinion he published on the matter that the election committee is not authorized to permit the placement of cameras.

>> Read more: Large-scale intimidation against Arabs on Election Day shows Israeli law is flawed | Analysis ■ No cameras this time | Editorial

His ruling came in the wake of a controversy that erupted after Israel's last election in April, when it emerged that activists in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party had placed cameras at polling stations located in Arab communities. The move was widely condemned as an attempt at voter suppression.

Melcer ruled that the systematic use of cameras at polling booths requires proper legislation. He emphasized in his ruling that members of the committee are not allowed to take any pictures at the polling stations under any circumstances, and that the documentation of the vote count will be under the responsibility of members of an election transparency panel.

Melcer also instructed that a pilot program be initiated to set up a unit of observers who will be equipped with body cameras, which they will use only in rare cases. According to his decision, only the secretary of the polling booth or an inspector on behalf of the election transparency panel will be allowed to take pictures at polling booths during the vote.

They will be permitted to do so only if they suspect that election fraud has been committed and pending an approval from the chairman of the Central Election Committee. Such photographs will then be transferred to the inspection of the Israel Police and to legal counseling among the election committee.

The chairman of the election committee detailed guidelines for the responsibilities of inspectors appointed to work for the election transparency panel: Half an hour before polls close, the inspectors will come to select polling stations, and only after the polls close they will be allowed to document the vote count process with the body cameras. The inspectors will not be allowed to leave the polling stations until the count is finalized and the results are registered in the protocol of the polling station committee.

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