AG opposes bill to place cameras at polls; PM vows to advance it anyway
Central Elections Committee head: Change could sow chaos

AG opposes bill to place cameras at polls; PM vows to advance it anyway

Likud protests Avichai Mandelblit’s position, says draft legislation seeks to prevent voter fraud

Illustrative: An Arab Israeli woman casts her ballot at a voting station in municipal elections on October 30, 2018, in Kafr Kasm. (Roy Alima/Flash90)
Illustrative: An Arab Israeli woman casts her ballot at a voting station in municipal elections on October 30, 2018, in Kafr Kasm. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

Draft legislation to allow cameras to be used in polling stations appears to contravene the law, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced on Wednesday, eliciting a strong response from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who vowed to advance the bill.

The bill, which backers say is intended to prevent voter fraud, was drafted by Justice Minister Amir Ohana and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri. Likud seeks to pass the bill in parliament before the election, which is in 13 days.

It would allow representatives of political parties to bring cameras into polling stations to document suspected ballot tampering and has the strong backing of the prime minister.

Mandelblit said the bill would damage “both the free exercise of the democratic fundamental right to vote and the constitutional obligation to hold secret and equitable free elections in a proper and reasonable manner” and that there was a “legal impediment” to its passage.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on February 2, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The legislation was advanced after the Central Election Committee late last month banned political parties from arming polling station representatives with cameras during the upcoming election.

The head of the Central Elections Committee also came out against the proposed legislation, saying passing the bill in under two weeks and attempting to implement it immediately would result in chaos on election day. Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer laid out his objections in a letter to Mandelblit, according to Channel 12.

“I would like to emphasize that it is our position that this bill cannot be advanced at this time,” wrote Melcer, citing the difficulties it would pose for the Central Elections Committee to oversee the national vote, and the “unconstitutionality that arises from it.”

During the April 9 elections, Likud equipped some 1,200 polling officials working at ballot stations in Arab population centers with hidden body cameras to prevent what the party claims as rampant fraud in the community.

Critics have charged that Likud’s efforts were a form of voter intimidation designed to keep the non-Jewish minority from the polls, a claim seemingly corroborated by the company contracted by Likud to carry out the operation.

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman said Wednesday that he wants surveillance cameras installed in all Arab and ultra-Orthodox polling stations in the coming elections on September 17 because he doesn’t trust either minority group to count the votes honestly.

“I very much don’t trust the vote count among the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs,” Liberman told Channel 13 news. “We must install cameras, as far as I am concerned across the country,” he said, and not just in Arab and ultra-Orthodox polling stations.

Netanyahu was quick to express disapproval of Mandelblit’s legal opinion, posting a video online in which he promised that he would not be deterred and would continue to promote the bill.

A tray of ballot slips at a voting booth in Israel’s parliamentary election on April 9, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“This is the only way to prevent voter fraud,” he said.

“We were amazed at the attorney general’s position against the bill to allow cameras to be placed in polling stations in a way that would certainly prevent voting fraud,” the Likud party said in a statement.

“The legal system is supposed to protect against voter fraud in every way, yet they are doing the exact opposite for reasons that remain unclear. What is more, the bill for placing cameras makes it clear that there would no recording behind the voting booth and that the privacy of voting would be ensured.”

Calling Mandelblit’s opinion “alarming,” the statement said that Justice Minister Ohana would “continue the legislative process and bring the proposal to the government.”

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