Election czar: Despite camera ban, politicians can say cheese as they vote

Election czar: Despite camera ban, politicians can say cheese as they vote

Central Elections Committee head says media can still take photos of leaders as they cast their ballots, though candidates and MKs must not campaign

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara cast their vote at a polling station in Jerusalem during the Knesset elections, April 9, 2019. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara cast their vote at a polling station in Jerusalem during the Knesset elections, April 9, 2019. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The Central Elections Committee, which last month banned party activists from filming inside polling stations, on Monday clarified that media can photograph public figures as they cast their ballots in Tuesday’s national election.

The use of recording devices in polling stations became a central topic of the election campaign after the ruling Likud party pushed, but ultimately failed, to equip political activists with cameras as a safeguard against what it claims is rampant voter fraud in Arab communities.

Politicians can pose as they put their voting slips into the ballot boxes but must not display which party is featured on the slip, or voice any campaign messages, the election committee chief ruled in a statement.

The ruling applies to serving MKs and candidates to become MKs, including the prime minister, ministers, party leaders, and their spouses.

Then Justice Minister and co-chairman of the New Right party, MK Ayelet Shaked, displays a voting slip as she casts her ballot at a voting station in Tel Aviv, during the Knesset Elections, on April 9, 2019. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, who chairs the Central Elections Committee and has overall responsibility for ensuring the fairness and accuracy of the vote, explained that police, media and some of the election candidates had inquired about the filming of VIPs at polling stations during Tuesday’s voting, a staple of the media coverage of Israeli elections.

“Media, and private photographers, will be permitted to photograph VIPs only as they put the envelope in the ballot box,” Melcer wrote.

Photographing VIPs as they identify themselves to the polling station committee before voting, or of them inside the voting booth, is prohibited, he stressed.

“There is an absolute prohibition on voicing [campaign] content while voting and anywhere inside the polling station and there is also a ban on displaying the voting slip to photographers,” Melcer said.

Under Israeli law, it is illegal to campaign inside polling stations or within several meters of its perimeter. In previous elections, some politicians have made a display to media of putting their party’s slip into a voting envelope, rather then doing so in the privacy of the voting booth as is the norm. The envelopes are then put into the ballot box.

Melcer advised political parties, in the interest of ensuring orderly proceedings, to notify regional election committees what time their public figures are planning to vote, if possible, so they can then warn the polling station in advance.

Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, the head of the Central Elections Committee, is seen at the Knesset on April 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Melcer said his clarification about photography at the stations was necessary within the framework of a decision taken on August 26 which banned filming at polling stations.

Elections earlier this year failed to produce a majority coalition leading to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dissolving parliament and calling fresh elections for September 17.

During April’s vote, Likud equipped some 1,200 polling officials working at ballot stations in Arab population centers with hidden body cameras to prevent what the party claimed was unchecked fraud in the community. Critics said the measure was intended to intimidate Arab voters and scare them away from polling stations.

When Likud planned to repeat the exercise during Tuesday’s vote, the Central Elections Committee banned the camera use, but decided to set up its own body of monitors, equipped with cameras, who will be sent to watch proceedings at certain polling stations suspected of irregularities.

Likud then tried to pass a bill permitting any political party to send activists with cameras to polling stations, but the legislation, which was opposed by the Central Elections Committee, the attorney general, and the Knesset legal adviser, was defeated in a preliminary Knesset vote.

Likud’s claim of irregularities in the Arab community vote has not been substantiated by evidence and a police investigation into voter fraud has found only minimal tampering, with some known cases of fraud benefiting Likud itself or the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

Furthermore, police only found sufficient evidence to justify a criminal investigation at one of 140 polling stations flagged by Likud for alleged fraudulent activity by Israel’s Arab minority, the Kan public broadcaster reported last week.

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