Early vote by Israeli diplomats and emissaries worldwide sees drop in turnout

Polls at missions close with 69% of 5,086 eligible voters casting their ballots — a 7% dip from April and a possible harbinger of lower participation in the national vote

Illustrative photo of a ballot box (Uri Lenz/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a ballot box (Uri Lenz/Flash90)

Early voting in the September 17 election for Israeli diplomats and emissaries around the world ended Friday morning, with a relatively low turnout compared to the last national vote in April.

In total, 3,525 of 5,086 people entitled to vote case ballots at 96 diplomatic missions across the globe, the Central Elections Committee said in a statement.

That left turnout at 69 percent, a 7% drop from the 76% in April.

The drop in vote participation could be a harbinger of trends in the national vote. Potential low turnout in the second election of the year — a result of voter fatigue as well as holiday season travel — could be a deciding factor in the results.

While the vast majority of Israel’s 6.3 million eligible voters will have to wait until September 17 before they can cast their ballots, Israelis stationed in embassies and consulates were able to vote Thursday from 8 a.m to 9 p.m. in their local timezone. The vote started in New Zealand rolled westward, ending in San Francisco some 30 hours later.

Ballot boxes were making their way to the Knesset, where they will be counted on election day along with the rest of the national vote.

Itzhak Gerberg, Israeli Ambassador to New Zealand casts his vote on September 5, 2019 in Wellington, New Zealand (Israel Foreign Ministry)

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, KKL-JNF, Keren Hayesod and the World Zionist Organization. In addition, their spouses and children (aged 18-20) can also cast ballots abroad.

To manage the vote, every embassy has a mini-election committee of sorts, which usually consists of the consul and another high-ranking official, preferably not from the Foreign Ministry but rather a military or cultural attaché. Every voter enters the voting booth and places their ballot in a sealed envelope. They then exit the booth and the envelope is placed in a second envelope with the voter’s name and identity number on it.

Then, all the envelopes are sent to Jerusalem, where they are held in a safe until Election Day. Members of the Knesset’s election committee then look at the names on the envelopes and check back with the polling stations where the citizen is registered to ensure they haven’t voted twice.

The first sealed envelope containing the voting slip is then 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 is counted as well.

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