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Israel to bus COVID patients to polling stations, may set up booths at airport

Central Elections Committee budget much higher than normal due to challenges posed by pandemic; official laments shortage of thousands of election day employees

A bus converted into a polling station ahead of the Knesset elections, in a photo released March 8, 2021. (Chaim Levy/Central Elections Committee)
A bus converted into a polling station ahead of the Knesset elections, in a photo released March 8, 2021. (Chaim Levy/Central Elections Committee)

Israel will fund special shuttles to polling stations for active COVID-19 patients during the March 23 Knesset elections, a top official said Monday, alongside further adaptations forced by the pandemic that will turn the election into the most expensive in the country’s history.

Central Elections Committee director Orly Adas also told reporters that dozens of buses will be converted into ballot stations for people in quarantine and to lower crowding in certain polling stations.

The committee is weighing placing voting stations at Ben Gurion Airport, so that arrivals to the country will be able to vote there before they enter home quarantine.

There are currently around 40,000 active COVID-19 cases in the country, and 120,000 others are in quarantine.

Central Elections Committee head Orly Adas shows a mock quarantined vote, during a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem on February 26, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The parliament’s Economic Affairs Committee approved the CEC’s budget, totaling NIS 674 million ($202 million), including NIS 237 million ($71 million) for facing the challenges posed by the coronavirus crisis.

There will be some 15,000 voting stations throughout the country, more than the normal 11,000, Adas said, in hopes of limiting potential infections at crowded stations.

But Adas noted that there was still a shortage of thousands of employees for ballot stations serving COVID-19 patients and those in quarantine. She called on volunteers in first aid organizations, healthcare workers and medical students to fill that gap.

A bus converted into a polling station ahead of the Knesset elections, in a photo released March 8, 2021. (Chaim Levy/Central Elections Committee)

Adas added that the CEC was still devising a plan for how to count the ballots and verify the results, with the number of absentee ballots expected to be double the normal.

The week-long Passover festival also poses a challenge, starting three days after the election. Adas said the goal is to complete the tally within two days.

The election is Israel’s fourth in under two years, amid an unprecedented political crisis that failed to produce a government after the first two votes in 2019 and yielded a short-lived unity government after the third. The vote is largely regarded as a referendum on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership, including his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Israel’s previous election, in March 2020, was held shortly after the coronavirus first reached the country, with several special polling stations serving the relatively few people who had then been suspected or confirmed to have contracted the virus or come in contact with confirmed carriers.

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