Likud MK: Shaked should be minister in next government

Elections committee blasts New Right’s claims of irregularities as false

The Bennett-Shaked party, which fell just 1,461 votes shy of entering the Knesset, had alleged problems in the counting process of special ballots

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (R) and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked announce the establishment of the New Right party, at a press conference in Tel Aviv, on December 29, 2018. (Jack Guez AFP/File)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett (R) and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked announce the establishment of the New Right party, at a press conference in Tel Aviv, on December 29, 2018. (Jack Guez AFP/File)

The Central Elections Committee on Sunday chastised the New Right party, which narrowly missed entering the Knesset in the April 9 elections, for making “false claims” about alleged vote-counting “irregularities.”

The committee, which manages Israel’s elections, said Sunday that it “wishes to clarify that it doesn’t take lightly the false claims being made by the New Right, according to which there were irregularities in the counting of double-envelope ballots.”

Double-envelope ballots are votes cast by individuals who could not reach their local polling station because of recognized limitations or their official duties, including soldiers, diplomats, prisoners, disabled individuals, hospital staff and hospitalized patients. They vote in special booths set up for the purpose.

In its unusually harsh statement on Sunday, the committee said it had treated the party’s concerns with utmost seriousness, and had given the party’s representatives access to the vote database and the counting process.

“In an extraordinary step, above and beyond the demands of the law, Central Elections Committee Chairman Hanan Melcer allowed the representatives of New Right to examine the materials from the special ballot boxes. Furthermore, every claim by New Right representatives, no matter the channel by which it came, was checked immediately” without requiring the party to go through the regular complaint process, the statement said.

Israelis count the remaining ballots from soldiers and absentees at the parliament in Jerusalem, a day after the general elections, April 10, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

It added: “Therefore, the committee views with great severity the spreading of false claims by the New Right according to which there were irregularities in the counting of the special votes, and the [party’s] failure to acknowledge the committee’s efforts to make available to it all the information it required.”

Separately, the Central Elections Committee said Sunday that it was conducting an internal investigation Sunday and Monday to locate errors and shortcomings in ballot stations across the country.

It said a sample of 400 ballot boxes would be inspected, stressing that the process was “routine and aren’t a result of the discourse over the past days.”

In the days after the election, when its near-miss became clear, New Right had pinned its hopes on the votes of soldiers, which were counted with the other special ballots in the two days after the results of the regular ballots were already known.

New Right, the newly founded party of former Jewish Home leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, fell just 1,461 votes short of the 3.25-percent electoral threshold for making it into the 21st Knesset.

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

New Right officials have suggested in the days after the vote that thousands of special ballots went uncounted by the committee.

Such concerns were likely boosted by technical difficulties that led to discrepancies in the vote count: Throughout Thursday, the committee’s website appeared to show New Right had passed the threshold, while committee officials insisted that it had not.

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

New Right’s concerns may also stem from the fact that the party did not have a representative on the CEC, which is composed of lawmakers from the outgoing Knesset and is chaired by a Supreme Court justice.

According to New Right and Likud sources, MK David Bitan, Likud’s representative on the committee, was in constant phone contact with New Right’s Shaked during the vote count, acting as the party’s de facto representative.

A longtime booster of New Right’s Ayelet Shaked, Bitan seemed to confirm these sources’ claims on Sunday, saying in an interview with Army Radio that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “asked me to help New Right in the Central Elections Committee to pass the threshold.”

While the committee’s political members are not involved in the vote count, they can push for recounts where there are believed discrepancies or irregularities, a role Bitan apparently played for New Right.

Likud MK David Bitan attends a meeting of t he Central Elections Committee at the Knesset on March 5, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

In a separate Sunday morning interview, Bitan also called for Shaked to be appointed a minister in the next government, despite her not winning a Knesset seat.

Several parties, including New Right, United Torah Judaism, Meretz and others have been in touch with the committee over what they believed were mishandled ballot boxes or other problems at one or more of the country’s more than 10,000 polling stations on election day.

The committee is accepting appeals linked to claims of irregularities until Wednesday, when it submits the final vote tally to President Reuven Rivlin. Parties can appeal any committee decision to the Jerusalem Administrative Court until the end of April.

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