On Tuesday, Israelis go to the polls to elect 183 local governments. Turnout is traditionally lower in local elections, but it shouldn’t be. In the Israeli system, local governments handle much of the workload when it comes to education, welfare services, environmental regulations and cleanup, fire and rescue services, cultural events – in short, most of the public services that most Israelis actually consume.
From Rosh Pina’s seven council members to Jerusalem’s 31, your councilman or councilwoman votes on the location and funding of your local schools, parks and community centers, on whether you can add a patio to your apartment and how much noise pollution you must suffer from an adjacent street. And city council members are much more likely to take the time to listen to your concerns on such issues than the 120 Knesset members who were elected, on average, by some 32,000 votes each.
Municipal councils and mayors are elected for five-year terms, far longer than the two-year average lifespan of a national government, so voters must live with their local council choices for a considerable time period.
As Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar said at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, “It is important to vote, first of all because local authorities have a dramatic influence on our daily lives in the most basic areas, from cleaning the streets to educating our children. They affect almost every aspect of life.”
He added: “The local councils, as a rule, are getting stronger. They are delving into matters they did not deal with in the past, or almost didn’t, including public security and planning and building reform. They are likely to get even stronger, as is happening throughout the Western world. Therefore, it is very important for Israeli citizens to vote and make their influence felt.”
Unlike Knesset elections, there is no special electoral threshold for being elected to municipal council. In a local election, the number of valid votes are divided by the number of available council seats, and the resulting number is the threshold of votes a list must receive to win each council seat.
It is likely that there will be seats and ballots left over, since council lists rarely receive exactly the number of votes required for each seat. In a large municipality with many lists, these can account for several seats’ worth of votes. In these cases, the remaining seats are apportioned to lists based on the number of remaining votes.
It is worth noting that even lists that fail to win a full council seat’s worth of votes are eligible to obtain a seat at this stage, but only if they received at least 75 percent of the votes required to pass the threshold for the first seat.
Unfortunately, the Interior Ministry’s online election information has not been translated into English. In lieu of official instructions, what follows is key information voters need to know in order to realize their right to vote and take part in the democratic process.
There are several major differences between local and national elections from the point of view of the voter:
- One can vote in local elections starting at age 17, a year younger than the minimum age required in national elections.
- The day of local elections is not an official holiday. Schools, businesses and other institutions will remain open as usual.
- Voters will be voting twice: once for mayor and again for their party of choice on the municipal council.
All Israeli citizens and permanent residents should have received a formal notice by mail in recent weeks from the Interior Ministry specifying the address of their ballot station, which will be open on Tuesday from 7 a.m until 10 p.m. (In villages with fewer than 350 residents, the hours will be from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.)
It is important to note that voters are only allowed to cast their votes at the ballot station closest to their registered place of residence, though an exception is made for those with a physical handicap that limits their ability to travel to their designated ballot location.
Voters must bring one of three identifying documents to the polling station: a national ID card (teudat zehut), an Israeli passport or an Israeli driver’s license.
If you don’t know where you are currently registered as a resident, or did not receive the notice specifying where you should go to vote, contact the Interior Ministry’s elections information hotline at -800-800-508.
Any Israeli citizen or permanent resident can also find his or her ballot station on a special Hebrew-language website established for that purpose by the ministry at https://kalpi.elections.gov.il. You will need your national ID number.
Many ballot locations are handicapped-accessible. A list of them can be obtained by calling the information hotline or checking the above-mentioned website and entering the name of the relevant town or regional council in the bottom box.
IDF soldiers, police and Prisons Service personnel deployed outside their area of residence can vote in special voting booths set up for that purpose on all IDF bases. Soldiers who will be deployed operationally outside their bases on Tuesday began casting their ballots on Sunday.
Not all municipalities or regional councils will be participating in Tuesday’s elections. Five small local councils, which have been suspended by the central government in Jerusalem due to mismanagement or other legal problems, will see their council elections held at a later date. The election in Arad will take place on January 14, 2014, in Yeruham and A’blin on November 11, 2014, and in Baka al-Gharbiyeh and the Jat Regional Council on November 10, 2015.