Editorial

Scaring Arab Voters Away in Droves

A woman votes in Beit Safafa, March 18, 2015.
Emil Salman

In the last election, the ruling party took the liberty of setting up its own election-integrity units to fight “the phenomenon of electoral fraud at Arab polling stations.” Likud bought 1,200 cameras and gave them to party members who served as polling station officials in Arab towns, a move that seems to have been aimed directly at the Arab parties. According to representatives of those parties, the presence of the cameras scared off many Arab voters and lowered the turnout rate in the Arab community.

In advance of September’s do-over election, Likud once again sought to put cameras in the polling stations. Justice Hanan Melcer, the chairman of the Central Elections Committee, forbade this, saying it would be against the law. Following an investigative report by Haaretz that exposed shady deals among the parties and irregularities in the counting of the votes, Melcer permitted the vote counting to be filmed, but not by the parties themselves. It will also be possible to film suspected fraud and other irregularities, but only after receiving approval from the Central Elections Committee.

>> Read more: Last Israeli election was riddled with irregularities and suspected voting fraud, Haaretz investigation reveals ■ No cameras this time | Editorial

In his ruling, Melcer stressed that any such filming will be done by inspectors from a new election-integrity unit that will be funded by the Central Elections Committee. And in fact, the day after his decision was issued, the committee began an accelerated process of trying to recruit thousands of inspectors.

But this didn’t satisfy Likud. In response to Melcer’s decision, the governing coalition is trying to ram a law through the Knesset that would also allow party representatives serving as polling booth officials or observers to use cameras. Likud’s proposal shows that the party has no real interest in preventing fraud; it only wants to intimidate Arab voters from coming to the polls.

The bill that Likud is trying to pass is unacceptable. Melcer’s proposal is proportionate: It allows the integrity of the election to be monitored without undermining the secrecy of the ballot. Aside from the fact that it leaves the monitoring equipment in the hands of the state rather than political activists, it also ensures that voters won’t be filmed upon entering and leaving the polling booth, and that no database will be created that contains pictures of voters, which could leak onto the internet and endanger Israeli citizens.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.