Passover, COVID restrictions could see clear election results delayed by days

Number of people voting with so-called double envelope ballots, which are counted last, expected to increase from 330,000 in the previous elections, to up to 600,000

The Central Elections Committee counts ballots from soldiers and absentee voters at the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 10, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
The Central Elections Committee counts ballots from soldiers and absentee voters at the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 10, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

A combination of coronavirus precautions, along with the upcoming Passover holiday, could see the final results of the March 23 elections remain unknown for several days.

The main problem is the increase in numbers of the so-called double envelope ballots, which are not counted at the voting sites, but brought to the Central Election Committee main headquarters in the Knesset for counting after the regular ballots.

In normal years these include the votes of soldiers, medical staff and patients in hospitals, prisoners and disabled people, as well as diplomats abroad who vote earlier than the rest of the population.

However this year, they also include those people infected with coronavirus, those in quarantine, and nursing homes.

Illustrative: Israelis count the remaining ballots of voters under home quarantine after returning from Coronavirus infected zones, at a tent in the Central Elections Committee warehouse in Shoham, March 4, 2020. (Flash90)

According to Ynet, the number of double ballots is expected to increase from some 330,000 in the previous elections, to between 500,000 and 600,000 this time, or the equivalent of 15 seats in the Knesset.

With several parties currently hovering around the 3.25% electoral threshold, this could lead to radical shifts in the eventual composition of the Knesset.

Tuesday’s vote, Israel’s fourth in under two years, features at least four parties hovering dangerously close to the cut-off line in opinion polls, with some surveys predicting a deadlock and others forecasting a possible path to a coalition headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

And with so many people not voting in place, it is also likely to affect the accuracy of the exit polls.

CEC director Orly Adas said last week that the week-long Passover festival also poses a challenge, starting three days after the election. Adas said the goal is to try and complete an initial tally within two days.

Meanwhile, President Reuven Rivlin announced that unlike after the previous Knesset elections, he will wait about two weeks until the final vote results are in before starting consultations with party leaders on whom they recommend to form the next government and become prime minister, since the results are expected to be very close.

After the elections, the head of each party that makes it into the 120-member Knesset is invited by the president to recommend their preferred choice of prime minister. The president then makes a selection, based on these recommendations, of who is best-placed to form and lead a governing coalition, normally a candidate recommended by at least 61 lawmakers.

Members of the Blue and White party meet with President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on September 22, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The official results normally take eight days to be published, but this time, the Passover festival and the increased number of absentee ballots due to the pandemic are likely to delay the process.

In the previous three rounds, Rivlin held the marathon discussions at the beginning of the week following the vote, before receiving the official results, in an effort to speed up the process. A short while after getting the official results, he tasked a candidate with forming a coalition.

But this time, Rivlin will wait for the official final results before any meetings with party leaders, the director-general of President’s Residence, Harel Tubi, said on Sunday.

“Unlike in the past, President Rivlin won’t hold consultations before the final results are filed, to ensure that they are clear and unequivocal. That will take about two weeks,” Tubi told Army Radio, confirming an earlier report by the Makor Rishon newspaper.

Meanwhile, twenty thousand police officers will be deployed on election day Tuesday to secure the vote, with cops stationed outside ballot stations flagged as potential flashpoints, the Kan public broadcaster reported

Undercover agents will also ensure there is no election tampering, the report said.

Police will also be on the lookout for violators of quarantine and COVID-19 patients who show up to cast their ballot at the general polling stations, rather than specially designated spots for those in quarantine.

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 Netanyahu’s leadership, including his handling of the coronavirus crisis and his trial on corruption charges.

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