Risking Vote Irregularities, Israel Election Board OKs Unbalanced Monitor Assignment

Haaretz found a correlation between unbalanced precinct committees and polling stations with potential irregularities; Central Elections Committee says such configurations are unavoidable

Central Elections Committee members counts votes in the election, April 10, 2019.
Oren Ben Hakoon

Around 2,490 polling stations will have unbalanced precinct committees in the September 17 election, creating an increased risk of irregularities. (For the latest election polls – click here)

Each polling station is supposed to have an apolitical secretary and a three-member precinct committee comprised of representatives from various parties. The Central Elections Committee decides which parties will have representatives at which polling stations; the parties then choose their own representatives.

According to Central Elections Committee rules, each of the three precinct committee members should come from a different political bloc (There are five: right, left, center, Arab and ultra-Orthodox). The idea is that if a committee is comprised of different blocs, each representative will supervise the others to prevent fraud.

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However, the Central Elections Committee also has a rule saying that each party’s total number of precinct committee representatives should be proportional to its share in the outgoing Knesset. These two rules sometimes prove incompatible.

The precinct assignments that the Central Elections Committee published this week are a significant improvement over the allocations in the April election, when there were thousands of polling stations with unbalanced precinct committees, and over 1,000 polling sites had no opposition representatives at all. Nevertheless, the September election will still have unbalanced committees in 20 percent of the polling stations countrywide, including 238 sites where only rightist and ultra-Orthodox parties are represented, 1,921 where only rightist and centrist parties are represented and 11 where only leftist and centrist parties are represented.

Sources on the Central Elections Committee said this was unavoidable, because the merger between Likud and Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party gave Likud 39 seats out of a total of 120 in the outgoing Knesset. That means Likud is entitled to one-third of all precinct committee slots, or one seat on every committee. Consequently, there’s no way to avoid committees that have Likud representatives together with representatives of other right-wing parties.

The case of polling station 14 in the Druze town of Yarka shows why balance on precinct committees is so important. It was originally supposed to have representatives from Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and Labor. But the Labor representative never showed up, and was eventually replaced by a representative from a third rightist party, Hayamin Hehadash.

It later turned out that Hayamin Hehadash won 94 votes in Yarka, 64 of which – more than two thirds – came from polling station 14. In fact, most of the votes cast at this station went to parties with representatives on site: 324 to Likud, 55 to Yisrael Beiteinu and 255 to Shas, which had an observer there. Moreover, turnout at the station was 94.3 percent, compared to 68.3 percent for the town as a whole.

None of this proves that fraud was committed. But it certainly raises suspicions.

A Haaretz investigative report found a broad correlation between polling stations with unbalanced precinct committees and ones with potential irregularities. For instance, polling station 182 in Ashdod had the highest turnout in the city, 94.2 percent, in an election where overall turnout was 64 percent. Its precinct committee consisted of representatives from Kulanu, Shas and United Torah Judaism – all members of the governing coalition.

Polling station 20 in Ofakim, with a precinct committee comprised of the same three parties, similarly had the highest turnout in the city.

Again, this doesn’t prove fraud. But it does indicate that unbalanced precinct committees are more likely to produce suspicious results.

In the April election, the imbalance on the precinct committees was magnified by the fact that some parties – primarily ultra-Orthodox and Arab ones – swapped representatives without informing the Central Elections Committee. This week, Central Elections Committee Chairman Hanan Melcer warned that such swaps are a criminal offense and would not be tolerated in the upcoming election.

The Central Elections Committee said that while its goal is to have three different blocs represented on as many precinct committees as possible, statistically speaking, this is impossible, given that each party’s total number of representatives must be proportional to its representation in the outgoing Knesset. Consequently, while most committees do have representatives from three different blocs, some have representatives only from two.

However, it added, the Excel table of precinct assignments that Haaretz sent along with its questions wasn’t produced by the Central Elections Committee and may not be accurate.