Israel's Election Panel Hires Inspectors to Film Inside Polls on Election Day

Central Election Committee says new unit will supervise at least 5,000 voting booths on September 17, refusing to divulge criteria for selecting sites, saying this was to prevent casting suspicionon particular polling stations

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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A voting booth in Kafr Qasem, April 9, 2019.
A voting booth in Kafr Qasem, April 9, 2019.Credit: Moti Milrod
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Three weeks before the September 17 Knesset election, the Central Elections Committee has begun recruiting thousands of inspectors to ensure the integrity of the vote. The formation of the new unit was announced Monday by committee chairman Hanan Melcer, a Supreme Court justice.

Committee officials said that despite the little time left before the vote, they expect to recruit the necessary personnel and get the technology needed. They refused to say how many inspectors they intend to hire but said the inspectors would visit between 5,000 and 7,000 of the roughly 10,500 precincts where voting will take place.

On Monday, Melcer announced he would permit filming of the counting of the ballots, but it could not be carried out by the political parties. His decision, which came in response to petitions challenging Likud’s plan to film polling places on Election Day, will halt that plan. Likud said it had aimed to prevent fraud at polling places in Arab communities. Critics of the plan said it would deter Arab citizens from turning out to vote.

>> Read more: Last Israeli election was riddled with irregularities and suspected voting fraud, Haaretz investigation revealsCiting privacy, Israel's attorney general objects to proposed cameras at polling stations

Following Melcer’s decision, Likud issued a statement saying it would consider putting forward a bill in Knesset, even before the election, permitting political parties to film inside polling places. Passage of such a law does not appear feasible, however, in the few weeks left until the vote.

An election committee source told Haaretz that the oversight would be carried out by a large security firm that would recruit the inspectors and equip them with a minimum total of 1,000 cameras. At least one company has been found and may be hired, either without a bidding process or based on an existing invitation for bids from the Accountant General.

The inspectors will be permitted to move around the various polling stations, meeting with precinct secretaries who represent the Central Elections Committee, and ensure they are not being intimidated. Where problems are suspected, inspectors may send an added secretary to assist in supervision.

Melcer gave directives for the inspectors’ activities and made it clear that only the inspectors, not the members of the precinct committee representing the range of political parties, can film what goes on at the polling place.

Inspectors can film at a polling station when there is suspicion of a criminal violation during the vote or counting of the vote. In any event, filming will only be allowed with Melcer’s approval, and in no case will filming be allowed of an individual voter at a voting booth.

The central committee declined to disclose the criteria it is using to decide which precincts the inspectors will visit, saying this was to prevent casting suspicion publicly on particular polling stations. In addition to random checks of stations, inspectors will go to precincts where irregularities were found or where the voter turnout was unusual in the last three elections.

Two weeks ago Haaretz reported on its own examination of election irregularities during the April election. Those polling places may also be checked by inspectors on Election Day. The Haaretz probe found irregularities including suspicious voter turnout that had not been discovered by authorities. The report noted dozens of cases in which there was a suspicion of vote fraud.

About half an hour before the voting ends, inspectors will be present at precincts selected in advance, where they will be able to film the counting of the ballots using body cameras.

Melcer has ordered that the inspectors not leave the polling places until after the ballots have all been counted and a final vote tally has been confirmed.

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