Even in civic-minded Modiin, many vote for sleeping in on election day
Reporter's notebook'I mean, come on! We just did this'

Even in civic-minded Modiin, many vote for sleeping in on election day

In the last election, the central Israeli town saw a record 78% turnout. This time fewer seemed to be making the effort to vote as polls opened

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Activists set up stands for various political parties outside a polling station in Modiin, September 17, 2019. (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)
Activists set up stands for various political parties outside a polling station in Modiin, September 17, 2019. (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)

The parking lot between the Avnei Choshen and Yachad schools in the central Israeli city of Modiin usually begins to fill up at 7 a.m. with a growing flow of parents weaving their cars in and out as they frantically drop off their children each day.

But at 7 a.m. on Tuesday morning, with no classes and the buildings turned into polling stations for the day, just a handful of vehicles occupied the gravel space and an almost serene quiet filled the surrounding streets, replacing the buzz of the hectic school run.

Outside both schools, activists from various political parties were setting up shop, hanging the familiar banners of smiling candidates that have adorned Israel’s streets for months and wearing T-shirts with the bright colors and catchy slogans of each party.

Showing that Israelis can be better than their fractured politics, Blue and White and Labor-Gesher volunteers helped Likud counterparts set up their stand in front of one of the polling stations.

Blue and White and Labor volunteers help Likud activists set up a stand outside a polling station in Modiin, September 17, 2019. (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)

With ballot stations open from 7 a.m until 10 p.m, most voters, however, appeared to be taking advantage of the national day off to sleep in and relax at home before, perhaps, heading to the polls. Over 10,000 polling stations were opening around the country, to allow more than 6.3 million eligible voters to cast their ballots for the 22nd Knesset, as a heated campaign season reached its climax, again.

Five months ago, in April’s national ballot, a sizable queue had already formed outside both polling stations here before they opened, as eager voters arrived to cast their ballots early. This time around, just a handful of early birds made the effort.

This didn’t comport with national numbers, though. As of 10 a.m., voter turnout was 15 percent, according to Central Elections Committee director Orly Adas —  2.1 percentage points higher than at the same hour in the April 9 race.

After April’s vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in July became Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, almost lost power when his Likud party along with its right-wing and religious allies failed to form a coalition.

Rather than allow another candidate to have a shot at doing so, he opted for a second election by calling on the Knesset to dissolve itself and is now again locked in a tough race against his main rivals from the Blue and White centrist alliance.

Surveys have shown Blue and White neck and neck with Likud, but with Netanyahu edging toward being able to muster a majority coalition of right-wing parties and retain his office.

In April, the 90,000-resident Modiin had the highest turnout of all of Israel’s major cities — 78 percent of eligible voters compared to just 68% nationwide. In the run-up to the September 17 vote, Netanyahu had warned that high turnout in central Israeli towns like this — which in April voted 42% for the centrist Blue and White, and 23% Likud — could be a sign of trouble for the ruling party.

But the sleepy start to Tuesday’s vote here sketched out a different picture, and may end up being a bellwether for low turnout in various locations across the country in what experts have termed “voter fatigue” due to the proximity to the previous elections.

Ballots lies on a table during Israel’s parliamentary election, at a polling station in Rosh Haayin, on September 17, 2019. (Jack GUEZ/AFP)

“I have never missed a vote and never will,” 65-year-old Rachel Karni told The Times of Israel before entering the polling station to cast her ballot. “But I understand those who don’t see the point. I mean, come on! We just did this.”

Eighteen-year-old David Cohen, who is one of the 59,623 voters to have passed the minimum age required to vote since April’s election, said he wanted to be “one of the first to utilize my right to vote,” but had many friends who, having voted last time, were giving this election a miss.

“I understand them. They were all excited like me last time but then nothing happened and we are here again,” he said.

For Yaron and Hila Fellman, however, the right to cast a ballot was so important that they changed their vacation dates in order to be in the country for at least part of election day.

“We are flying this afternoon and have to get the the airport now, so it’s good at least that there are no queues!” Hila said of the relatively empty Avnei Hoshen school she had just left.

Polls close at 10 p.m. Tuesday, when final turnout numbers will be released, with results expected to start trickling in on Wednesday morning.

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