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Eyebrow-raising data-entry glitches, and 51 probes, as election results finalized

No, a kibbutz didn’t vote for Liberman, and Jaffa didn’t give a majority to United Torah Judaism, the Central Elections Committee final check shows

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Officials count the final ballots, from soldiers and absentees, a day after the general elections, March 18, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90
Officials count the final ballots, from soldiers and absentees, a day after the general elections, March 18, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90

Israelis have known the results of the March 17 elections since last Wednesday morning, but it will not be until this Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party will have officially won.

Political parties have been recommending a prime minister to the president since Sunday, and Netanyahu has been busy negotiating toward a new coalition government from the moment Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog conceded to him early Wednesday, but the Central Elections Committee will only announce the final voting results a full eight days after Israelis went to the polls.

According to Israeli electoral law, the CEC has this time to sort out voting irregularities and finalize counts. No election goes completely smoothly, and the extra week of double-checking is needed to assure the public that despite some alleged illegal irregularities and several glitches — some of which became widely known, thanks to the speed and reach of social media — the final results are reliable.

The more serious irregularities could land people in jail. On Election Day, the police opened 51 investigations of alleged voting fraud, ranging from threats against polling officials to voter impersonation to ballot theft. All were relatively minor, and none has the potential to affect the final distribution of Knesset seats, the CEC said.

Officials count the final ballots, from soldiers and absentees, a day after the general elections. March 18, 2015. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90
Officials count the final ballots, from soldiers and absentees, a day after the general elections, March 18, 2015. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90

As for the glitches, these “were technical mistakes that resulted from incorrect data entry,” CEC legal adviser Dean Livne told The Times of Israel Monday, referring to a relatively small number of election results posted on the CEC website that were initially incorrect due to human error.

Benjamin Netanyahu gives the thumbs-up to supporters at the Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv, early on March 18, 2015, hours after the TV exit polls were announced for the previous day's elections were published. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Benjamin Netanyahu gives the thumbs-up to supporters at the Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv, early on March 18, 2015, hours after the TV exit polls were announced for the previous day’s elections. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Livne explained that errors, like one reported by Kibbutz Samar member Marjorie Strom in a Times of Israel blog, were caused by election workers accidentally entering data into the wrong lines in the computer system.

Voting results at Kibbutz Samar as counted by elections officials on-site on March 17, 2015. (Facebook)
Voting results at Kibbutz Samar as counted by elections officials on-site on March 17, 2015. (photo credit: Facebook)

Strom wrote in her blog post that the results reported by the election workers who counted the leftist kibbutz’s votes on site did not correspond with what appeared on the CEC website. A photograph of the results from the on-site counting (82 for the Zionist Union, 60 Meretz, 14 Likud, 10 Green Leaf [the party in favor of legalizing marijuana], 8 Yesh Atid, 6 Kulanu, and the rest scattered among the other parties) circulated on Facebook. Strom said she woke up the morning after the election surprised to read on the CEC site that 60 votes went to Avigdor Liberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, and none to Meretz.

In another case in which the votes reported on the CEC website did not logically correspond with the demographics of a particular polling station, journalist Danna Harman questioned on Facebook how the majority of the votes in one ballot box at the polling station in her predominantly Arab neighborhood in Jaffa went to the Orthodox Jewish United Torah Judaism party.

“Are you kidding me? …Zero for Arab party? Something is fishy,” she wrote. “What’s going on? Maybe there is a yeshiva somewhere in the neighborhood I am unaware of. But I doubt it.”

By the time Strom’s and Harman’s complaints became widely known, the results to which they were referring had been corrected.

“We check sums and reports, plus we respond and look into all public complaints that come in. This feedback is part of the transparency of the process,” explained Livne.

“It’s a matter of the votes having been counted correctly — but posted incorrectly. That is why we always want the chairmen and observers at each polling place to compare the reports that were typed up by the regional committees in the early hours of the morning with what has been posted online.”

As of Monday morning, the CEC had discovered website errors relating to 76 ballot boxes that needed to be corrected.

According to Livne, some members of the public have made complaints that were based solely on their own ideas about what the voting results should have been in a certain location, rather than on any hard evidence about possible errors.

Moshe Kahlon and his Kulanu party were the top choice of Druze voters in Usafiya and Daliyat al-Karmel. (photo credit: Flash90)
Moshe Kahlon and his Kulanu party were the top choice of Druze voters in Usafiya and Daliyat al-Karmel. (photo credit: Flash90)

Sometimes results are surprising, but not incorrect. For instance, in the Druze communities in Usafiya and Daliyat al-Karmel in northern Israel, Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu economic issues-focused party won 32.16 percent and 37.59 percent of the votes respectively. In both cases, Kulanu came in well ahead of the Zionist Union, the Joint (Arab) List, and other parties.

What of the alleged illegal irregularities on Election Day?

“I can’t comment on these investigations, but even if these 51 cases of alleged fraud were proven to be true, it wouldn’t invalidate the election results,” said Livne. “The margins between the parties are huge.”

According to Livne, the CEC views any fraudulent voting activity to be an egregious offense that must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

“We have had discussions about this the attorney general, and we will demand incarceration for anyone found guilty,” he said.

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