The vast majority of Israel’s 5.6 million eligible voters will have to wait until January 22 before they can cast their ballot, but for 4,290 Israeli diplomats stationed in 96 embassies and consulates around the globe, elections started late Wednesday, Israeli time, and were continuing throughout Thursday until 8 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.
Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand, Shemi Tzur, was the first Israeli to cast a ballot in the elections to the 19th Knesset, followed by about eight other Israeli diplomats based in sunny Wellington. “Elections are always something very important, and we happen to have the good fortune to be the first ones doing it. This is really very moving,” Tzur said. “We’re a small team far from Jerusalem. But today we feel very close.”
“The average number of ballots from an embassy or a consulate is about 40,” said Alon Shoham, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s consular division, who also currently runs the ministry’s election process. “Our consulate in New York is the largest, with 700 ballots. And then we have a number of places with just one ballot. Even if there is just person who’s eligible to vote — it’s his right to vote like that of everybody else.”
There are four types of “special elections,” Shoham explained: those for diplomats and others serving the state abroad; Israeli soldiers on army bases; citizens in prisons; and hospital patients. Israelis who are on duty outside Israel’s borders were the first ones allowed to vote, but only if they were on an official mission for the state (vacation doesn’t count) and if they won’t be back before January 22. Their spouses and children (aged 18-20) can also cast a ballot abroad.
According to Israeli law, private citizens living abroad cannot vote unless they come to Israel. But the exception made for diplomats also applies to emissaries sent abroad by the Jewish Agency, Keren Kayemet, Keren Hayesod and the World Zionist Organization.
Every embassy has a sort of election committee, which usually consists of the consul and another high-ranking official, preferably not from the Foreign Ministry but a military or cultural attaché. Every voter enters the voting booth and places the ballot of his choice in a sealed envelope. He or she then exits the booth and the envelope is placed in a second envelope with the voter’s name and identity number on it.
At the end of the process, all envelops are sent to Jerusalem, where they are guarded in a safe until Election Day. Members of the Knesset’s election committee will then look at the names on the envelopes and check back with the polling stations where the citizen is registered to ensure he or she hasn’t voted twice.
Once it has been ascertained that everything is kosher, the first sealed envelope containing the voting slip is placed in a special ballot box, together with all the other envelopes from abroad. After the polls close in Israel and the counting starts, the diplomats’ box will be counted as well.