Hours after the polls closed at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, culminating an election day with a notably high turnout, Shas mayoral candidate Moshe Abutbul was announced as the winner of the Beit Shemesh vote, beating secular candidate Eli Cohen by fewer than 1,000 votes.
The final vote count released by the Interior Ministry early Wednesday revealed that Abutbul, the incumbent, had won 19,401 votes, or 51 percent, while Cohen had won 18,643 votes — 49 percent.
In Nazareth, meanwhile, challenger Ali Salam won two-thirds of the votes, beating longtime incumbent Ramez Jaraisi, unbeaten since 1994. Salam had also emerged victorious in the October election, which was contested over suspicions of foul play.
Salam won 27,666 votes, or just over 61 percent, whereas Jaraisi won 17,266 votes, or 38.43 percent.
The decision to call new elections in Beit Shemesh was reached by the Jerusalem District Court in December came after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and secular mayoral candidate Cohen, who lost to Abutbul of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party by a narrow margin in October’s election, appealed the results over allegations of widespread fraud.
Police had discovered hundreds of identity cards in an apartment and car believed to belong to Abutbul supporters, as well as a cache of clothing that apparently served to disguise individuals who voted multiple times on election day. Investigators suspected that Shaya Brand, an associate of Abutbul, had organized a plan to identify nonvoters and pay them for their identity cards, so that Abutbul supporters could use them to cast fraudulent ballots.
Shas has maintained that Abutbul’s victory was legitimate, claiming the judges had been swayed by a media smear campaign.
By the time the polls closed at 10 p.m. in Tuesday’s reelection, some 76 percent of eligible voters in Beit Shemesh and 83.6% of eligible Nazareth residents had exercised their right to cast votes for mayor for a second time, after evidence of fraud overturned the results of last year’s elections.
In a throwback to those elections, a woman in Beit Shemesh was detained by police Tuesday evening for allegedly trying to vote twice.
The turnout Tuesday greatly exceeded the turnout during the original mayoral elections on October 22, 2013 — by some 7% in Beit Shemesh, and 13% in Nazareth.
“Greater participation leads to more accurate results of the public’s wishes,” Interior Minister Gideon Saar said.
The election results are particularly sensitive in volatile Beit Shemesh, which is has become deeply divided in recent years between the secular population and a burgeoning ultra-Orthodox community. Tensions in the city have led to several violent incidents, often initiated by extremist ultra-Orthodox men toward women and girls they deemed immodest.
In Nazareth, Attorney General Weinstein said a post-election investigation, conducted jointly by the Interior Ministry, Prisons Service and Justice Ministry, revealed that at least 11 ballots were cast in November’s municipal election by individuals who were either under arrest or out of the country and thus could not have voted.
Incumbent Jaraisi beat out challenger Salam by just nine votes in that poll, so that a handful of fraudulent ballots could have been enough to decide the vote.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.