Turnout for national elections was the highest in decades as of Tuesday morning, election officials said, dispelling fears of voter apathy for the rare rerun poll.
Israelis were voting for the second time in five months after an earlier April election failed to produce a coalition. Political figures across the board have tried to counter expected voter apathy by urging citizens to cast their ballots.
As of noon, voter turnout was 26.8 percent, two percentage points higher than at the same hour in the April 9 race, Central Elections Committee director Orly Adas said.
At 10 a.m., Adas said 15% had voted, up from 12.9% in April. That figure was the highest by that time of day since 1984, when it reached 15.6%. Final turnout in the April election was 68.5%.
Most polls opened at 7 a.m. for some 6.3 million eligible voters, and will remain open until 10 p.m. when exit poll results are announced.
Adas said that a total of 956,856 votes had been reported from 8,596 polling stations, roughly 80% of all stations. The turnout figures also included survey data from 493 statistically representative stations. The number is based on the assumption that 9.5% of Israeli voters are abroad and will not be casting ballots.
The figure did not include ballots of active duty soldiers or others allowed to submit absentee ballots, which are counted last.
Despite the higher-than-expected turnout numbers, various party officials insisted that voters were only showing up to ballot boxes in the very locations where they do not have a large base of supporters.
Blue and White officials claimed figures in left-leaning Tel Aviv were down by 2.5 percentage points from the April race. High turnout in the city is seen as key to the party’s campaign strategy.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, posted a glossy graphic to Twitter purporting to show a vast disparity between what he calls “leftist cities” and “Likud cities.”
The party called an “emergency meeting,” at the Prime Minister’s Residence to discuss what it claimed was “high turnout in the Arab sector and in the bastions of the left.”
The Joint List of Arab parties said it had seen slightly higher turnout in Arab towns, but voting rates were still well below the national average. Turnout in the Arab sector in April was slightly below 50%.
Surveys have shown Netanyahu’s Likud and chief rival Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party are neck and neck, with neither able to put together a 61-strong coalition, but with Netanyahu only two or three seats away from being able to do so.