Police temporarily close several polling stations over suspected voter fraud

Station in Umm al-Fahm shuttered over illegal filming, while 3 stations in Yarka are closed for hours and voting is extended for 2 hours

Arab Israelis at a polling station in Kafr Manda near Haifa on election day, September 17, 2019. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Arab Israelis at a polling station in Kafr Manda near Haifa on election day, September 17, 2019. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Police temporarily shut down several polling stations on Tuesday over suspected voter fraud.

In the morning, a station in the northern Arab city of Umm al-Fahm was briefly shuttered after an observer began filming voters in an apparent violation of the law.

“He was escorted out of the polling place by police officers, and afterward there was a larger gathering of citizens,” police said in a statement. “Out of concerns that there would be violence in the area, it was decided to close the polls until police finished dealing with the event.”

The polling station was later reopened.

In the afternoon, police shut down three polling places in the Druze village of Yarka in northern Israel out of concern for election fraud.

“A report was received of suspicion of counterfeiting at three polling places in the village of Yarka. There is suspicion of an attempt to bring voting envelopes into the polling areas,” police said.

“In accordance with an instruction from the regional election committee, the three polling places have been closed until the investigation is completed.”

Due to the three polling stations being closed for a significant period of time, the Central Election Committee made the decision to extend voting there until midnight instead of 10 p.m.

An Israeli man casts his ballot during Israel’s parliamentary election, at a polling station in Rosh Haayin, on September 17, 2019. (Jack GUEZ/AFP)

There were several other disruptions reported during Tuesday’s voting, Central Elections Committee director Orly Adas said, many of them related to illicit filming at polling stations.

In the Bedouin city of Rahat, police said it had detained a man on suspicion that he had try to insert several voting envelopes into the ballot box.

The Central Elections Committee deployed 3,000 of its own observers Tuesday to ensure voting proceeds legally and without disturbances. Some 20,000 police officers have also been deployed to polling stations.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to gain a majority in the Knesset to pass legislation that would have allowed party operatives to film at the ballot box. Critics charged that the measure was aimed at voter suppression, while Likud insisted it was needed to stymie widespread voter fraud. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit expressed firm opposition to the bill, warning it could undermine the integrity of the vote.

Netanyahu has made repeated allegations of widespread voter fraud, claiming that that Tuesday’s election would be being “stolen” from him, because of a lack of enforcement against “rampant” voter fraud in Arab communities.

However, the evidence Netanyahu has presented proving such fraud has been limited at best, with the Central Elections Committee saying it has not established any significant cases.

In April, the Likud party equipped some 1,200 of its polling station representatives in Arab towns with hidden body cameras. At several locations, the discovery of the recording devices led to skirmishes between Likud officials and local poll workers, who were frustrated at having been targeted in the covert operation.

The operation’s organizers subsequently boasted having been responsible for reducing Arab voter turnout to its lowest-ever rate.

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