Voter turnout on Tuesday was outpacing voting levels from the elections earlier this year, bucking predictions of a drop in voter participation in the repeat poll.
Turnout as of 8 p.m. hit 63.7 percent, the Central Elections Committee said, an increase of 2.4 points over the same time of day during the April race.
The figure was made up from reports from 8,724 polling stations, 80.9% of the total number of stations nationwide, as well as a Central Bureau of Statistics survey of 529 representative stations.
The figures do not include ballots of active duty soldiers or others allowed to submit absentee ballots, which are counted last.
Israelis were voting for the second time in five months after the April election failed to produce a coalition. Political figures across the board have tried to counter expected voter apathy by urging citizens to cast their ballots.
Despite the higher-than-expected turnout, various party officials insisted that voters were only showing up to ballot boxes in the very locations where they do not have a large base of supporters.
At an “emergency meeting” of senior Likud officials to consider the ruling party’s response to a purported rush on the polls by “Arabs and leftists,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that the Arab Joint List was on track to win 15 seats.
If it does, it would be the highest-ever showing for Arab candidates, and more or less in keeping with the community’s actual numbers among the Israeli adult population.
Shortly after, a recorded message was sent to Likud supporters in which Netanyahu said his party was “narrowing the gap” to his rivals.
Claims that leftists and Arabs were voting “in droves” characterized Likud’s last three campaigns, including when the figures showed the claim to be incorrect.
Blue and White, Likud’s chief challenger in the elections, claimed that turnout was up in right-leaning areas.
“I’d love to stand here and say today is a celebration of our democracy, but this isn’t a holiday. This is a time of emergency for our democracy. At this urgent hour, we’re getting reports from all around the country that Bibi [Netanyahu] is managing to get his people out,” Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid said while campaigning in Tel Aviv.
“Right now, our numbers are lower than his. This is no time for small parties, no time to go to the beach,” he added.
The Joint List said earlier Tuesday it had seen slightly higher turnout in Arab towns, but voting rates were still well below the national average. Turnout among Arabs in April was slightly below 50%.
Most polls opened at 7 a.m. for some 6.3 million eligible voters, and will remain open until 10 p.m., when exit poll results are announced.
Surveys have shown Netanyahu’s Likud and chief rival Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party are neck and neck, with neither able to put together a 61-strong coalition, but with Netanyahu only two or three seats away from being able to do so.