Prosecutors to indict Shas polling official for election fraud

Prosecutors to indict Shas polling official for election fraud

As Netanyahu alleges widespread voting irregularities among Arab Israelis in April vote, representative from allied party is accused of illegally seeking to influence results

Citizens cast their ballots at a voting station in Jerusalem, during the Knesset elections, on April 9, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Citizens cast their ballots at a voting station in Jerusalem, during the Knesset elections, on April 9, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prosecutors announced Sunday that they intend to indict an election official representing the ultra-Orthodox Shas party for election fraud during the previous national vote earlier this year.

Mohammad Diab, one of four chairmen of the polling committee at a voting station in the northern city of Tamra, added at least seven ballot slips after polls closed during elections on April 9, prosecutors said in a statement.

“This in order that those [votes] would be counted together with the rest of the ballots put into the ballot box on election day, with the intention of illegally influencing the election results,” the statement.

Prosecutors noted it was not clear for which party the excess votes were cast.

Diab will be charged with crimes of harming the integrity of the elections, pending a hearing.

The Arab Israeli town of Tamra, March 3, 2019. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)

The announcement from prosecutors came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued to claim there was rampant fraud in Arab communities in April’s vote and warned his political rivals “want to steal” the fresh round of elections on Tuesday.

Police, however, have found minimal tampering and have said those irregularities largely benefited Netanyahu’s Likud and Shas, a key ally of the prime minister’s party.

Besides the case in Tamra, evidence was also found in the northern town of Kisra-Sumei indicating there was there were fraudulent votes during April’s elections that benefited the ruling Likud.

The Kan public broadcaster reported earlier this month that police only found sufficient evidence to justify a criminal investigation at one of 140 polling stations flagged by Likud for alleged fraudulent activity by Israel’s Arab minority.

A hidden camera allegedly snuck into a polling station in an Arab town by a Likud observer during parliamentary elections on April 9, 2019. (Courtesy Hadash-Ta’al)

To counter the alleged voter fraud, Netanyahu championed a bill to allow political parties to bring in recording devices to polling stations, but it failed to pick up sufficient support to make it past a preliminary vote last week.

The government advanced the proposed legislation despite the opposition of the attorney general, the head of the Central Elections Committee, and the Knesset’s legal adviser.

Critics of the bill said it was designed to suppress voter turnout among Arab Israelis.

During April’s vote, Likud equipped some 1,200 polling officials working at ballot stations in Arab population centers with hidden body cameras to prevent what the party claimed was unchecked fraud in the community. The Central Elections Committee has since banned their use.

Earlier Sunday, Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, who heads the Central Elections Committee, turned down Netanyahu’s request for an “emergency” meeting to discuss the allegedly widespread voter fraud in the Arab community.

Melcer, who has overall responsibility for ensuring the fairness and accuracy of the vote, said he would not be meeting with Netanyahu or any other party leader before the election, citing his “tight schedule.”

Netanyahu’s Saturday request to urgently meet with Melcer was slammed by opposition politicians as a campaign stunt meant to “incite and divide.” Several parties followed up on the Likud leader’s request by demanding one-on-one meetings with Melcer for their leaders as well.

Central Elections Committee chairman Hanan Melcer (L) hands the final election results to President Reuven Rivlin in the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on April 17, 2019. (Screen capture/Twitter)

The request came a day after a report in the Maariv daily alleged that police had questioned only two out of 82 election officials who reported irregularities at their voting stations during the elections in April.

Likud has recently asserted that Ra’am-Balad, an alliance of two Arab parties that cleared the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent of votes by a margin of just a few hundred ballots, had made it into the Knesset thanks to fraudulent votes. The ruling party claimed that Ra’am-Balad’s purported fraud had deprived Likud of a majority coalition in the 120-member Knesset, and forced Netanyahu to call the new round of elections on September 17.

The party’s claim has not been substantiated by evidence.

Some analysts have seen Likud’s claims that rival parties are trying to steal the elections as a ploy to shore up backing among right-wing voters and have likened it to Netanyahu’s comments on election day in 2015 that “Arab voters are coming in droves to the polls,” remarks he later apologized for.

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