Why the remaining ballots are likely to sink Balad, confirm Netanyahu’s victory

Arab party, currently below threshold, is critical for denying Likud a majority. But Israel Democracy Institute data shows double-envelope ballots majorly disadvantage Arab parties

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu waves to his supporters at his party's headquarters in Jerusalem, Nov. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu waves to his supporters at his party's headquarters in Jerusalem, Nov. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

As the vote tallying in this week’s Knesset election nears its final stages, and with the bloc of parties loyal to right-wing leader Benjamin Netanyahu on course for a convincing victory, all eyes are on the over 600,000 so-called double-envelope ballots, which will determine the fate of two parties opposed to the Likud chairman that are currently hovering just below the minimal threshold for entering the Knesset.

With some 85 percent of the votes counted, the Netanyahu-led bloc was predicted to win 65 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, a comfortable majority. The critical remaining factor was the fate of the left-wing Meretz party and the hardline Arab party Balad, which were barely under the 3.25 percent minimal electoral threshold. Meretz was hovering at 3.2% while Balad was at 3.04%, meaning that as it stands, both parties will not be in the next Knesset.

But there are still the double-envelope ballots cast by members of security forces, prisoners, hospital patients and staff, diplomats serving abroad, residents of senior-citizen and assisted living facilities, and people who voted at polling stations for those with movement disabilities.

For Netanyahu’s bloc to end up without a majority, Meretz and Balad will both likely need to pass the threshold. But how likely is this to happen?

According to an analysis by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), the double-envelope ballots have become increasingly significant recently since their share of all ballots has more than doubled over the past few national votes — from 5.5% in April 2019 to 6.3% in September 2019, 7.2% in 2020, and 9.6% in 2021. In this week’s election, the figure is over 12.5%.

This is in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw many Israelis vote in designated booths, according to IDI researchers Dr. Or Anabi and Prof. Ofer Kenig. But it is also a result of more and more Israelis taking advantage of accessible polling stations meant for those with disabilities, which give people the option not to vote at their assigned polling station according to their address on record. In practice, anyone can arrive at these stations, sign a declaration that they are disabled, and vote. While it is illegal, there is no enforcement.

According to the IDI, in previous elections, the double-envelope ballots — which disproportionately represent young Jewish voters — tended to favor right-wing parties and trendy fringe parties, while significantly disadvantaging ultra-Orthodox and Arab parties, which would mean the chance of Balad passing the threshold is slim.

The percent of votes won by each political party in the March 2021 Knesset election among the regular ballots (in orange) and double-envelope ballots (in blue). (Israel Democracy Institute)

“It is quite likely that if any of [the Arab parties] are hanging on to the electoral threshold by their fingernails after all the regular ballots have been counted, the double-envelope ballots will leave them below the threshold and outside the Knesset,” the researchers said in their analysis.

However, Meretz has reason for optimism since in the March 2021 election, its share of votes in the double-envelope ballots was slightly higher than among the rest of the votes, which could be enough to propel it into the next Knesset.

Meretz making it into the Knesset would decrease the Netanyahu bloc’s majority, but without Balad entering as well, it would likely still garner at least 61 seats — enough for a majority.

Therefore, barring an unexpected turn of events, Netanyahu’s election victory is likely to be confirmed by the remaining votes, giving his bloc an outright Knesset majority for the first time in years.

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