Election Day 2019

How to cast your ballot: A practical guide for first-time and veteran voters

Vote for the party you like or, if you like none of them, vote for the one most diametrically opposed to the party you most dislike. Either way, vote

Raoul Wootliff

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

A man arrives to casts his ballot at a voting station on the morning of the municipal elections, on October 30, 2018, in Kedumim. (Hillel Maeir/Flash90)
A man arrives to casts his ballot at a voting station on the morning of the municipal elections, on October 30, 2018, in Kedumim. (Hillel Maeir/Flash90)

On Tuesday morning, over 10,000 polling stations will open across the country to allow more than 6.3 million eligible Israeli voters to cast their ballots for the 21st Knesset, as a heated campaign season reaches its climax.

With a record 39 parties running in the national ballot and up to 14 expected to enter the Knesset, post-election coalition machinations have already begun in earnest, even before polling stations have opened. But it won’t be until Thursday that final results are likely to be published and it could be just as long before a clear winner emerges (or perhaps even longer).

A legal holiday in order to make it easier for citizens to vote, Election Day has become an opportunity for Israelis to spend time at the beach, hold family barbecues in national parks, and hike trails from the north to the south — as well as to vote, of course.

Most of the polling stations will open at 7 a.m., and are slated to shut their doors at 10 p.m. (some voting stations in rural communities, hospitals, and prisons open an hour later at 8 a.m.). Exit polls come out once the polling stations close, with official results expected to start trickling in throughout the night and into Wednesday morning.

Ballot boxes filled with votes from nationwide municipal elections are brought to the Central Election Committee headquarters for counting, October 22, 2013. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Special ballots are counted at the Knesset by Central Elections Committee workers. All other votes are counted by elections officials at either the polling places, or at one of 18 regional elections committee headquarters. All the counting is done manually, following the closing of the polling stations.

By law, the final election results must be published within eight days of the vote, but a spokesman for the Central Elections Committee said the counting would be finished on Thursday afternoon.

The logistics of an Israeli election are different from those in Anglophone countries, from which a large number of our readers hail. If you are one of Israel’s 6,339,279 eligible voters (all eligible voters are automatically registered), here are some tips to make sure your vote is properly cast — and properly counted.

Where to vote

Because Israel’s voting system is not computerized, voters must cast their ballot at their assigned station. So, if you live in Haifa, but happen to be on vacation in Eilat on Election Day, you will not be able to vote — unless you cut your trip short and hurry back home. And if you are out of the country, you can forget about it altogether. Israelis may not vote by absentee ballot, which can be a disappointment for those among the 12 percent of eligible voters (citizens aged 18 and older) who are typically outside Israel on Election Day, and want to exercise their democratic rights.

Israelis line up to cast their ballots at a voting station on the morning of the municipal elections on October 30, 2018, in the northern Israeli city of Safed. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Very few citizens are permitted to vote on Election Day at a polling station that is not their assigned one: Israel Defense Forces soldiers, medical staff and patients in hospitals, prisoners, and disabled people (3,940 polling places are accessible to people with disabilities, and blind individuals are permitted to bring one person behind the partition to help them cast their vote).

In the case of the military, which began voting on Saturday night and finishes with the rest of Israel on Tuesday, sometimes polling stations go to the soldiers instead of vice versa: some stations are set up on military bases, and others are brought out to the soldiers in the field.

Another exception is Israeli diplomats on assignment at embassies and consulates around the world. They voted on March 27, with their ballots set to be counted together with all the others from Wednesday.

While the state does not foot the cost of flying Israelis home from abroad to vote, it does provide a free bus ticket to anyone who needs to undertake inter-city travel to get to his or her assigned polling station. University students, for instance, can take advantage of this offer if they study in a different city from their permanent residence.

A soldier casting a ballot for the 21st Knesset on April 7, 2019. (IDF Spokesman’s Unit)

The obligation to vote at the station to which you are assigned is a measure that targets voting fraud, and it is strictly enforced. If you are eligible to vote, you should have received a little card by mail from the Central Elections Committee, notifying you which booth is yours, and where it is located. (Note: There are multiple polling stations in many municipalities. Make sure to go to the booth labeled with the number you received, or they will not have you listed as an eligible voter.)

If you did not receive your card, or have lost it, fear not. You do not need the card to vote, and you can find the number and location of your assigned booth here. Just type in your ID (te’udat zehut) number and the date it was issued, and the site will give you your polling booth’s number and address.

How to vote

When you go to vote, you must bring with you one of the following three forms of state identification, and only these three. Other identification documents, no matter how official their source, will not be accepted:

1. An Israeli driver’s license with a photo.

2. An Israeli ID card (te’udat zehut).

3. An Israeli passport with a photo.

Do not bring weapons, handbags, or packages to the polling station. You may have to leave them outside to vote.

Now that you are in, the method for voting is simple. The staff at the polling station will hand you an empty blue envelope. Inside the booth, you will find stacks of slips with each party’s letter-based symbol and name in Hebrew. If Hebrew is not your strong suit, familiarize yourself with your party’s symbol beforehand, or write it down and bring the note with you into the booth.

View of voting notes at the central elections committee warehouse in Shoham on March 25, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Since Israelis do not mark their ballots, what the ballot counters look for are the symbols printed on the slips of paper that voters place inside the envelopes. Each political party running for the Knesset is assigned a symbol or code, usually made up of as many as three letters. Although the party’s name is also printed on the slip of paper (in Hebrew or Arabic, depending on the location of the polling place), most voters know to look for their preferred party’s symbol.

Parties that have run in the previous election get to keep their letters. For example, Alef-Mem-Taf has long been the tag for the Labor Party, and Mem-Het-Lamed has been “owned” by the Likud for decades. New parties need to adopt letters that have not already been taken, or else ask permission from other parties to borrow their letters.

Once you have found the ticket of your preferred party, make sure it is clean (with no marks other than the printed symbol), and place it in the envelope, making sure there is only one slip in the envelope. Multiple slips, even from the same party, will disqualify your vote. The law also allows parties to print up their own ballots, so long as they adhere to the specific requirements regarding size, type of paper, ink, and the like. Although it is rare for parties to meet these specific printing specifications, if they do, then they are legally allowed to hand out these ballots to potential voters before they head in to the polling station.

Sheets of newly printed ballots seen at Palphot printing house, in preparation for Israel’s upcoming general elections, March 20, 2019. (Yossi Zeliger/ Flash90)

This “only one slip” instruction may sound obvious, but there are currently fake campaign messages being spread on Israeli social media sites and messaging apps urging voters from certain political camps to prefer “unity” over “division” by placing two parties from that side of the aisle into their envelopes. Whether the messages are intended as a joke, or whether they are a dishonest effort to lead voters from that camp to unknowingly disqualify their votes, is beside the point.

One last note, literally: there are blank tickets among the stacks in the booth. These are not write-in ballots for parties or candidates who are not otherwise registered to run. They are there only in the case that the slips for the party of your choice run out. If you do not see any of your party’s slips left, write the symbol of your party in legible script on the blank ticket and place it in your envelope. Whether you have written in the symbol of your party or, more likely, used the pre-printed ballot, and insert it into the ballot box.

Finally, make sure to tell everyone you know that you voted, and that they should too. Vote for the party you like or, if you like none of them, vote for the one most diametrically opposed to the party you most dislike. Either way, vote.

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