Likud wins extra seat at expense of UTJ as election panel adjusts results
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Election chair to request new vote at several polling sites

Likud wins extra seat at expense of UTJ as election panel adjusts results

New results give Likud 32 seats, still one shy of Blue and White, and do not affect overall balance of blocs; votes disqualified at six polling stations after evidence of fraud

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hosted by United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman during Litzman's grandson's wedding festivities, June 18, 2017. ( Shlomi Cohen/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hosted by United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman during Litzman's grandson's wedding festivities, June 18, 2017. ( Shlomi Cohen/FLASH90)

The Central Election Committee amended its vote tally early Wednesday, awarding Likud an extra seat at the expense of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party following last week’s election.

The committee said the new results came after an investigation which found several instances of apparent election fraud.

The change gives Likud 32 seats, while UTJ drops from eight seats to seven.

Despite the extra seat, Likud remains a seat behind Blue and White, and the new tally does not shift the balance of power between the rival blocs headed by Likud’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White challenger Benny Gantz.

Netanyahu has been endorsed as preferred prime minister by 55 MKs, including from his own party and UTJ, which signed a pact together with Shas and Yamina agreeing to enter coalition negotiations as a bloc. Gantz has the backing of 54 MKs, including from his own party, center-left allies, and much of the Joint List.

In the late night announcement, the committee said the change came following a thorough investigation that found “real evidence of apparent vote tampering” in six polling stations.

Israelis voted at more than 10,000 polling stations in the September 17 elections.

Election Committee Chairman Judge Hanan Melcer decided that votes cast in these 6 polling stations, mostly in Arab Israeli and Druze communities, would not be included in the results.

The affected polling stations were three in Yarka, one in Sakhnin, one in Shfaram and one in Arava.

Results from three further stations in Yarka were partially invalidated, the statement said.

Police had shut down three polling stations in the Druze village of Yarka in northern Israel on election day, out of concern for election fraud. Police received a report about alleged attempts to stuff ballot boxes with voting envelopes. In Sakhnin as well, a polling station was briefly shut over a fraud allegation.

Melcer said that in several other stations in Yarka and Sakhnin investigators had managed to identify specific problematic votes and only these had been disqualified.

All the suspicious activities, which included false ballots, ballot stuffing and “serious irregularities among polling station officials,” would be investigated by police, Melcer said.

Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, chairman of the Central Elections Committee, at the Knesset on April 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Given the issues in these polling stations, Melcer has decided to ask the attorney general to consider an appeal to the Jerusalem District Court to request that a new vote be held at the stations where there were “alleged instances of fraud and irregularities,” the statement said.

Other factors that affected the change in results were the correction of statistical anomalies and the completion of the counting of the final six lots of “double ballot” votes from soldiers, prisoners and diplomats.

Some 70 lawyers and committee officials have been siting in various Knesset rooms picking through piles of blue envelopes containing voter slips in recent days, in an attempt to ensure the integrity of the ballot and identify any irregularities that might have been missed.

Checking votes in a final attempt to reach as accurate an election result as possible, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, September 23, 2019. (Sue Surkes)

The committee has until the end of Wednesday to give President Reuven Rivlin its final results.

The latest results gave Gantz’s Blue and White 33 seats to Likud’s 32. Third was the Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties at 13, followed by the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas with nine and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu with eight seats.

Rounding out the list were United Torah Judaism and Yamina with seven seats, Labor-Gesher with six and the Democratic Camp with five.

Neither Gantz nor Netanyahu has a clear path to a viable 61-plus coalition.

The center-left-Arab bloc, including the predominantly Arab Joint List — which has never been a member of the government — has 57 seats, although only 54 of its members recommended Gantz as prime minister in talks with President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday and Monday. (Only 10 of the Arab List’s 13 MKs backed Gantz, with the List’s three MKs from the Balad faction recommending nobody.)

The Netanyahu-led right-wing and religious bloc has 55 seats. Avigdor Liberman’s eight-strong Yisrael Beytenu party did not recommend either man.

Rivlin has encouraged Gantz and Netanyahu to try to reach a unity government and they have begun talks.

Ahead of last week’s vote, Netanyahu warned that the election was being “stolen” from him, because of a lack of enforcement against “rampant” voter fraud in Arab communities.

He railed against parties who voted down a bill that would have allowed Likud operatives to film inside ballot stations, and against the attorney general who refused to give his blessing to such legislation.

His charges were based on the April elections, but the Central Elections Committee said it has not established any significant cases of fraud in that vote.

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