Millions vote in local races by afternoon, marking slight increase in turnout

Millions vote in local races by afternoon, marking slight increase in turnout

Vote mostly calm despite fistfights, tear gas attacks, accusations of fraud and an embarrassed justice minister who broke the law

Campaign activists outside a voting station on the morning of the municipal elections, in Ashdod, on October 30, 2018. (Flash90)
Campaign activists outside a voting station on the morning of the municipal elections, in Ashdod, on October 30, 2018. (Flash90)

Over 2 million Israelis cast ballots at polling stations throughout the country by late Tuesday afternoon, marking a significant increase over past elections.

Local elections for mayors and councils in cities and regional councils are taking place for the first time since 2013.

According to the Interior Ministry, 2.1 million people had voted by 4 p.m., an average of 31.8% for each authority.

The figure was an increase of some 7 percent over the rate at the same time of day when the last municipal elections were held in 2013.

The voting proceeded without incident in most polling stations, but there were claims of fraud, cyber attacks, and irregularities as well as violent confrontations and arrests in some locations.

There were some 6.6 million eligible voters in 251 cities, towns, and local councils.

Prospective mayors would need to score at least 40% of the vote in their local elections to win office; otherwise a run-off vote with the two top placed candidates.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked apparently broke election laws when she posted to social media a video of herself inside a polling station in Tel Aviv, casting her vote and urging support for her Jewish Home party’s candidates.

Shaked admitted she inadvertently broke Israeli election laws by posting to her Twitter account the video of herself campaigning inside a polling station.

The video was later removed, and a statement from Shaked’s office said the minister did not realize she had broken the law at the time.

“As soon as it was apparent that it was illegal, the minister removed the video from social media and has apologized for the error,” the statement said.

Opposition MK Mickey Rosenthal filed a complaint with the attorney general against Shaked over the video.

In Jerusalem, one of he most hotly contested municipalities, all of the mayoral candidates began their day by praying at the Western Wall in the Old City, the Hebrew-language Ynet website reported.

By 4 p.m., less than 18% of Jerusalem residents had voted, significantly less than the nationwide average. East Jerusalem residents traditionally boycott municipal elections, and in many Palestinian neighborhoods mere dozens of voters had shown up.

Jerusalem mayoral candidate Ze’ev Elkin casts his ballot at a voting station on the morning of the municipal elections, in Jerusalem, on October 30, 2018. (Shlomi Cohen)

Police arrested two people riding a motorbike on suspicion of spraying tear gas near a voting booth in central Jerusalem. They were taken away for questioning.

Activists from the Bnei Torah party in Jerusalem, affiliated with the extremist ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem Faction, claimed there was tampering in some of the capital’s neighborhoods. Party activists said they filed a complaint with police, arguing that at some locations there were attempts made to invalidate voting slips for the party, which has given its support to candidate Ze’ev Elkin as mayor — a break from the mainstream ultra-Orthodox parties who backed Moshe Lion.

In Tel Aviv, the headquarters of Assaf Harel, a TV presenter hoping to become the next mayor in place of veteran Ron Huldai, said it had received reports from locations around the city that the party’s voting slips were disappearing from booths.

“It seems there is someone who it is important to him to silence the alternative,” party said in a statement and that the matter had been reported to election officials.

In Haifa, Yona Yahav filed a police complaint against rival Einat Kalisch-Rotem accusing her of launching a spam attack against phones used by his party activists, preventing them from using the devices.

His rival Kalisch-Rotem’s headquarters hired a private investigator firm to ensure there was no fraud in the elections, claiming they had information that such attempts would be made, Ynet reported.

The Haifa race is expected to be close between Yahav and Kalisch-Rotem.

Chairman of the local election committee Yossi Haham said resorting to using an private investigation firm was “unnecessary paranoia.”

An Arab Israeli woman casts her ballot at a voting station during municipal elections, in Kafr Qasim, on October 30, 2018. Roy Alima/Flash90)

“There are enough systems to ensure purity of the elections,” he said and noted that each party is entitled to send representatives to observe polling centers, but that most don’t bother.

A fabricated “screen capture” shared on social media, which was made to look as though it had been snapped from the Ynet website, claimed that the mayor of Nazareth had been arrested for an illegal relationship and was being questioned by police. Ynet stressed that there was no such incident.

In the northern Druze city of Majdal Shams police officers broke up an anti-election protest that was blocking voters from a local polling station. No injuries were reported. Police said all polling stations in the city were opened.

Many in Druze communities in the Golan are boycotting the elections, saying they were loyal to Syria, not Israel. There have been reports that some voters who did show up were told by representative of religious authorities that they would be ostracized from their communities.

One man was held in police custody after a fight broke out at a polling station in the Bedouin town of Ar’ara, in the Negev. According to reports, the other man involved in the fight was taken to hospital with light injuries.

Haaretz reported that the Interior Ministry announced that the national local elections supervisor had asked the Jerusalem election administration to look into an incident in the city in which a woman said she discovered someone had voted in her place.

Voting booths opened at 7 a.m. are were to close at 10 p.m.

This year was the first time Israelis were given the day off for local elections in an effort to boost turnout at municipal polls, with the Nature and Parks Authority reporting some 180,000 Israelis took advantage of the holiday to visit national parks across the country.

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