Top election official: Formal results at midnight, ‘no fault’ with vote tally

Top election official: Formal results at midnight, ‘no fault’ with vote tally

Chairman of elections committee explains website error caused discrepancies between actual results and online data, but stresses count has been accurate

Central Elections Committee head Justice Hanan Melcer at the Knesset, April 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Central Elections Committee head Justice Hanan Melcer at the Knesset, April 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The head of the Central Elections Committee on Thursday evening said the election’s results would be formally released at midnight, after a day of political wrangling and accusations of possible misdeeds over discrepancies in the vote count.

Justice Hanan Melcer acknowledged that erroneous data had been registered on the committee’s computers, leading to a difference between official results and those posted to the committee’s official website, but insisted the final tallies from Tuesday’s vote were correct.

Speaking to journalists at the Knesset, Melcer stressed there was “no fault or issue” in tallying the votes from Tuesday’s election.

The website had not been updated for several hours as of Thursday afternoon, and still showed the New Right party clearing the electoral threshold, even as more updated reports indicated the party fell short of entering the 21st Knesset. Other snafus included displayed turnout rates of over 100 percent in some areas.

Melcer downplayed the computer glitches at a press conference. He said the errors on the site were the result of a software glitch that prevented the site from displaying the vote tallies in real-time, and said the erroneous data displayed on the website was not the result of a cyberattack.

Melcer told reporters the final results would be published by midnight Thursday, after the votes of soldiers, prisoners and diplomats were tallied, which could affect the numbers for smaller parties hovering near the electoral threshold.

“The data that will appear on our site at midnight is the true data, and that is is what I will present to the president at our planned meeting,” he said.

He noted that the numbers could still change slightly after that.

The New Right party demanded Melcer not publish the election results, citing “massive irregularities” in the voting process. In a Thursday evening statement, the party said it had received over a thousand complaints of “faults and issues” by party activists at polling stations across the country.

“There are massive irregularities going on here, and we will fight for every last vote,” the party said.

Earlier, committee spokesman Giora Pordes told The Times of Israel the problems on the site were caused by a “technical error in the website programming” which led to some of the data entered into the system not being registered, causing the discrepancy.

In a statement, the committee said: “Three glitches were found in the data transfer. The problem is not with the count but with entering figures into the system. Some of the figures were recorded by the system and some were not.”

The Central Elections Committee counts the remaining ballots from soldiers and absentee voters at the Knesset in Jerusalem,, April 10, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The glitch “only affects the results seen online,” Pordes stressed, explaining that the actual results were recorded on a “separate and secure” system.

He added that election officials did not believe a cyberattack was responsible for the website’s problems. “We are not looking at that option at all,” he said. “It has nothing to do with that. There is no suspicion whatsoever of a hack or anything like that.”

New Right co-leaders Ayelet Shaked (R) and Naftali Bennett address supporters at their campaign headquarters in Bnei Brak on April 9, 2019. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

When regular ballots were counted overnight Tuesday-Wednesday, the New Right garnered a disappointing 3.14% of the vote, around 4,300 votes short of the 3.25% threshold. It then pinned its hopes on the soldiers’ votes and other extra votes carrying it over the finish line.

On Thursday morning, the Elections Committee website posted figures showing New Right just above the threshold with 3.26%, but officials later said that was a mistake. Officials said that after the extra votes were counted, the New Right crept up to 3.22%, still 0.03% — or 1,380 votes — short of making it into the Knesset.

Party leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked called for a recount of soldiers’ votes, citing the website errors. Party sources alleged that “very strange things are happening at the Central Elections Committee. Someone is stealing the elections from the right-wing.” They claimed party observers had not been allowed to monitor the counting process.

Bezalel Smotrich, No. 2 on the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URWP) slate that includes Jewish Home — which Bennett and Shaked left to form New Right — backed the call for a recount, also alleging a “purposeful attempt” to oust right-wing lawmakers.

But URWP leader Rafi Peretz signaled a different approach, saying he had “full trust” in the Elections Committee and that the party would “responsibly” await its official announcement.

Screenshot from the Central Elections Committee website showing the New Right party with 3.26% of the vote on Thursday late morning, April 11, 2019. The Committee said this information was erroneous and that the New Right had actually won only 3.22% of the vote. It said the site was not showing the correct number of total votes counted, and was thus displaying inaccurate figures for all parties.

Even with New Right failing to cross the threshold and seeing its votes go to waste, Netanyahu is still seen as able to cruise to a relatively easy victory that secures him a fourth consecutive term in office, and fifth overall.

Netanyahu’s Likud and the rival Blue and White party were deadlocked with a projected 35 seats apiece in the 120-seat Knesset. But Likud and its ultra-Orthodox and right-wing allies were in command of a majority consisting of 64 or 65 seats in the Knesset — depending on the final count.

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