Liberman urges anti-fraud cameras in Arab, ultra-Orthodox polling stations

Liberman urges anti-fraud cameras in Arab, ultra-Orthodox polling stations

Yisrael Beytenu leader says he doesn’t trust ballot counts in those communities, wants surveillance at all voting locations across the country

An Arab Israeli man (L) registers before voting in elections for the Knesset on April 9, 2019, at a school turned polling station in the northern town of Tayibe. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
An Arab Israeli man (L) registers before voting in elections for the Knesset on April 9, 2019, at a school turned polling station in the northern town of Tayibe. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

MK Avigdor Liberman said Wednesday that he wants surveillance cameras installed in all Arab and ultra-Orthodox polling stations in the coming coming elections because he doesn’t trust either minority group to count the votes honestly.

“I very much don’t trust the vote count among the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs,” Liberman told Channel 13 news. “We must install cameras — as far as I am concerned across the country,” he said, and not just in Arab and ultra-Orthodox polling stations.

“To hide behind the claim that it impacts privacy is unrealistic,” Liberman said, asserting that these days there are cameras recording people in so many places that surveillance is a part of everyday life.

The Yisrael Beytenu leader’s remarks follow the ruling Likud party’s use of cameras in the last elections at Arab polling stations and its plans to expand the controversial program, which critics say chilled Arab participation in the vote. The Central Elections Committee last week banned party representatives on polling station committees from being equipped with cameras at ballot booths, instead tasking a new independent body of poll watchers with preventing voter fraud.

The hawkish Liberman, who praised the election committee over its stance, has already said his party is recruiting activists to serve as poll watchers in ultra-Orthodox and Arab towns during the upcoming September 17 elections, albeit not with cameras.

Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman speaks at the National Labor Federation conference in Jerusalem, September 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Likud, which is still pushing for its party representatives to be allowed to take cameras into Arab polling stations, claimed Tuesday that without fraudulent votes in the April election, one of the country’s Arab parties, Ra’am-Balad, would not have passed the minimum threshold of 3.25 percent of the vote for entry into the Knesset, equivalent to four seats in parliament.

“You can’t ignore the feeling that the elections are being stolen from us,” Likud tweeted following a district court hearing on alleged voter fraud. “Today it was established that if [voter] fraud had been prevented, Balad would not have passed the threshold percentage, and the right-wing bloc under the leadership of Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu would have had 61 seats. This would have kept Israel from unnecessary elections.

“At the moment, they are adding insult to injury by trying to prevent election monitoring, which will again enable the elections to be stolen against the will of the voter,” Likud tweeted. “Scandalous.”

Police have so far opened only two official investigations into suspected voter fraud: in the towns of Afula and Kisra-Sumei, regarding two polling stations that were not targeted by Likud in its surveillance program.

The Times of Israel obtained records from over 100 polling stations that were found to have irregular voter turnouts relative to the figures at adjacent stations. While a portion of those polling stations were located in Arab towns, these made up less than a third of the total, which also included irregular turnouts in the ultra-Orthodox settlements of Modiin Illit and Beitar Illit, as well as the cities of Petah Tikva, Afula, Netanya and Rosh Ha’ayin.

Netanyahu also commented on the subject in a video posted to his Facebook page.

“We will not let them steal the election from us,” he vowed and said the ban on party cameras at polling stations is “negating the most essential thing in democracy — the purity of the elections.”

The prime minister said Likud wants cameras at all polling stations, regardless of which sector of the population they serve, in order to preserve the democratic process.

“If you can film at the supermarket then why not at the polling station?” Netanyahu continued, and stressed the cameras would not be directed at voters as they cast their ballots behind a screen, but rather at the other activities in the polling station.

Illustrative: An ultra-Orthodox man casts his vote at a polling station during general elections on March 17, 2015. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)

In the last elections, Likud won 35 seats but was unable to form a majority coalition of 61 lawmakers in the 120-seat Knesset. Liberman refused to bring his party’s five seats into the coalition due to an impasse with ultra-Orthodox parties, leaving Netanyahu with just 60 seats in total for his coalition. Blaming Liberman for thwarting a right-wing government, Netanyahu dissolved parliament and called fresh elections.

The ruling party’s surveillance project during April’s elections was criticized as a form of voter intimidation, a claim seemingly corroborated by the company contracted by Likud to carry out the operation.

On Tuesday Globes reported that police will hand over 1,000 body cameras to the Central Election Committee, which will then distribute them among its 3,000 polling station observers. The measure has been approved by the attorney-general, the report said.

According to the new rules, as the voting ends at 10 p.m., a pilot team of independent poll watchers will be stationed at specific stations that were flagged by the election committee as having shown inconsistencies in their vote counts during last April’s election.

After the last voter has left the station, the poll watchers will be required to film the entire ballot counting process. They will not be allowed to leave the station until the tally has been completed, the Central Elections Committee chief said.

Israeli election regulations allow members of separate parties to make up three of the four poll workers at each ballot station. Another individual affiliated with an additional party not already represented can also be present as a designated observer.

The planned poll watchers are additional observers, independent of the political party members.

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