Likud Voters Abandon Polling Stations Amid Long Queues, Slow Computers

Likud voters formed long lines outside the voting stations for the party's primary election last night, prompting party officials to keep ballot boxes open for two extra hours.

While the delays in the process to elect the party's Knesset list ahead of the upcoming general elections could be the result of a late rush of constituents, sources involved with the election process blamed the new computerized system which was employed in the election for the first time.

Complaints were lodged at several polling stations that the voting process had taken longer than expected, causing severe delays and prompting multiple voters to abandon the polls in frustration. During the last hours, attendants were dispatched to the polling stations to assist the voters in the process. As of 8 P.M. the voter turnout stood at only 33 percent of the 99,000 registered members.

Political analysts predict a low turnout will help the camp of far-rightist Moshe Feiglin, whereas higher voter turnout could bolster Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu.

Polls indicate Likud may sweep to power in the Feb. 10 general elections. A candidate winning a high place on the party list would be well positioned for a senior cabinet post in a Netanyahu government.

"The computerized vote is taking slightly longer than anticipated," Netanyahu said yesterday afternoon. He said this was "in addition" to delays in Jerusalem, caused by a wayward tractor that damaged communication lines.

"I have received reports that voters came to polling stations and left without voting at all. They should return and cast their vote. It's important for everyone to realize their democratic right to elect Likud's team," he said.

Netanyahu himself had to ask for help when voting at a computerized station, calling over an expert who joined him behind the cardboard barrier hiding the computer. Netanyahu was initially considering extending the vote, which was to close at 10 P.M., until Tuesday, but the chairman of the Likud central voting committee decided to extend the vote only until 1 A.M.

Likud deployed a total of 360 voting station nationwide, which gave a ratio of 277 voters per station. By comparison, Labor had a more convenient ratio of 218 voters per station in its primary election last week.

Party officials who were involved in hiring the firm Malam Communications to handle the electronic voting process said that voters "had simply come unprepared, and did not know for whom they were going to vote." They also said "the large number of lists and candidates made things difficult for the voters."

Evelyn Gordon from Eli voted in the neighboring community, Shilo. She told Haaretz that voters took a long time to vote. "It took far longer than people might have expected," she said. "The last time I voted for the primary, the entire process took 15 minutes. This time I waited for 45 minutes."

She added that the computer was slow and that voters were unprepared because they were not familiar with electronic voting.

"People didn't know they had to know their candidates' numbers, and that knowing their names wasn't enough," she added.

Another voter, who preferred his name be withheld from this article, encountered problems when he came to vote in Modi'in. "I came to the voting station in the afternoon, having spent a long time looking for the address, because the voting slip listed the wrong address," he said.

After an hour of standing in line without nearing the end, the voter decided to go home. He said there were about 300 voters at the station, who had come there from all over the Modi'in region. He complained the area should have had at least two stations.

Or Hishauga, Ofri Ilani, Elad Noi, Jack Khoury and Amitai Ziv contributed to this article.