Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Israel Election Day Jan 22, 2013

Polling Station Sign
Israeli election day is finally here - my first opportunity to vote in an Israeli election.  There are many choices - more than 30 parties, of which 13-16 are expected to win seats.  There are more than 5,600,000 eligible voters.  As of 5 p.m. this afternoon, estimates are that the voter turnout is approximately 5% higher than in the last national election, although polls will still remain open in most areas until 10 p.m. and some people may have simply voted earlier this election.  To win a seat in the 120 seat Knesset, a party needs 2% of the total votes.  With an expected voter turnout of approximately 80%, that would translate into a total of 4,480,000 voters.  Parties will get one seat for each 89,600 votes, approximately.

Party List and Abbreviations
We decided to head over the local polling station at about 3 p.m., figuring that this might be an "off-time."  Our polling station was at a local middle school, which was using three rooms as three different polling stations.  At the polling station, there is a list posted of all of the eligible parties and a short letter combination as the symbol for each party.  

At our polling station, we had a line up of about 20 people waiting to vote.  Each station allows only one person into the room at a time and there is only one ballot box. So we had to wait for a total of about 40 minutes until we were able to vote.  In order to vote, you are required to present appropriate photo ID - a driver's licence, valid passport or national I.D. card ("te'udat zeut") proving that your current address matches the polling station and, of course, that you are eligible to vote.  Israelis must be in Israel, physically, to vote with a few limited exceptions.  Unlike the U.S., you cannot generally vote as an "absentee voter."

View Inside Ballot Box
The voting system itself, to someone who is not used to this system, seems to be a bit confusing.  Inside the ballot box, there are piles of paper in compartments representing each of the different parties.  Each paper has the name of a different party written on it - or at least the 2 or 3 letter abbreviation for the party.  Voters pick the piece of paper with the party for whom they are voting and place it in the envelope.  They seal the envelope and then bring it over to the four polling station supervisors and place it in the ballot box in front of the witnesses.  The whole process seems to me to be unnecessarily complicated.  I would have thought that there should be a pre-printed list with the thirty or so parties, clearly named, and an opportunity for people to place an "X" next to whichever party they choose.  Nevertheless, this has apparently been the system for years and there is always some inertia to these processes. 

I just can't figure out why the parties should all be abbreviated into a letter or two, which bear no relation to the party name.  This just seems to add an unnecessary layer of confusion.  The party name should be first and foremost in large, clearly legible letters.  If it must be abbreviated, it should be a simple abbrevation of the party's actual name - for example, the first two letters.  Instead, the one or two letter abbreviation that is used is completely unrelated to the name of the party.  While I had narrowed down the list of which party would be getting my vote to two or three parties, I had checked in advance which two or three letter abbreviations they were using. 

So I made my decision and placed the sealed envelope into the ballot box. The next step is to wait for the results, which will begin rolling in at about 10 p.m. Israel time. 

Meanwhile, Israeli T.V. is reporting that Israelis are greatly enjoying election day.  It is a national holiday.  Shopping malls are open and have apparently been quite full with many election day specials taking place.  The beaches have also been quite crowded as it has been a beautiful, sunny day.   Many others have been travelling to national parks, barbecuing outdoors and spending time with family and friends.  Closing everything on Election Day is a big expense for the Israeli economy but it creates an atmosphere of a very special event.  It will be interesting to see whether there is anything special about the results.

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