ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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A staggering 4,500 party lists; 801 candidates for mayor

With ballot boxes for troops in Gaza, Israel readies for local elections in wartime

Vote initially scheduled for October to finally take place February 27, though 12 municipal authorities whose residents have been evacuated will still need to wait

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Interior Minister Moshe Arbel holds a press conference on February 12, 2024, ahead of municipal elections scheduled for February 27. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Interior Minister Moshe Arbel holds a press conference on February 12, 2024, ahead of municipal elections scheduled for February 27. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Preparations for nationwide municipal elections are in full swing ahead of election day on February 27, but 12 municipal authorities will not vote on that date since their inhabitants have been evacuated due to the current conflicts with Hamas and Hezbollah, the Interior Ministry announced on Monday.

At the same time, voting booths will be set up in the Gaza Strip to enable soldiers currently on combat duty in the war-torn territory to exercise their right to vote.

In total, some 7.2 million Israelis in 241 municipal authorities will have the right to vote in over 11,600 polling stations across the country in the upcoming ballot, amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza and in the face of severe security threats from both Hamas and the Hezbollah Lebanese terror group.

Interior Minister Moshe Arbel said during a press briefing on Monday that the ministry is closely coordinating with the IDF Homefront Command and the Israel Police to ensure that preparations are in place in the event of security incidents on election day.

“I pray that together, our officials, the candidates in the various municipal authorities, and of course the residents — the electorate, we will be able to hold a true democratic celebration on February 27, even in the very complex reality we are facing,” said Arbel.

“More than that, I remind you that Election Day is a day off, and I urge parents to bring their children with them to the polls, as a lesson in good citizenship.”

Israelis line up to cast their ballots at a voting station on the morning of the municipal elections on October 30, 2018, in the northern Israeli city of Tzfat. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The municipal elections were originally scheduled for October 31, 2023, but were postponed due to the outbreak of war with Hamas in Gaza, and then postponed again after being rescheduled for January 30, because of the ongoing conflict.

The total number of eligible voters for election day will be 7,190,920; they will vote in 75 cities, 114 regional councils, and 44 local councils across the country.

There are 24,910 candidates standing for election in the massive 4,500 party lists, including 801 candidates for mayor, of whom only 83 are women.

Approximately 50,000 officials are involved in staging the elections, which will cost the country some NIS 1 billion ($273 million).

Because of the current conflict, the number of so-called “double envelope” ballots, which will be cast outside of voters’ municipal jurisdictions, will be some 400,000, a huge increase over the 95,000 such ballots cast in the last municipal elections, in 2018.

This increase is due to the large number of soldiers currently serving on active duty of different kinds at present, as well as an increase in the number of people who have been injured as a result of the conflict and who will need to vote from hospitals.

IDF soldiers operate inside the Gaza Strip in this undated handout photo published February 9, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Ryan Ghanem, the national inspector for elections, confirmed that soldiers involved in combat duties will be able to vote in the elections in polling stations in Gaza, but said he could not disclose the number of soldiers who are eligible to vote there or the number of polling stations that will be set up in the territory, due to security considerations.

Soldiers inside and outside Gaza will be able to start voting from February 20.

Interior Ministry Director-General Ronen Peretz said that, due to the large number of double-envelope ballots that are expected to be cast, it will likely not be possible to announce official election results until several days after the elections.

The 12 municipal districts that will not participate in the elections on February 27 are Eshkol; Sha’ar Hanegev; Sdot Hanegev; Hof Ashkelon; and Sderot in the south, along with Upper Galilee; Mevo’ot HaHermon; Mateh Asher; Ma’ale Yosef; Merom HaGalil; Kiryat Shmona; and Shlomi in the north. A date for elections in those locations is expected to be set later this week.

Peretz said during the briefing that the ministry will conduct security evaluations every two hours on Election Day, in coordination with the IDF Home Front Command and the Israel Police to ensure the safety of voters.

Should Hamas or Hezbollah attacks complicate voting on Election Day, the ministry will issue instructions to citizens as to how they can vote, while the possibility of calling a halt to voting and postponing to a later date is also an option that may be adopted if circumstances necessitate, Peretz said.

“We have prepared to advance a wide variety of scenarios, and we will manage Election Day from a unified control center where the heads of the Home Front Command, the police, the army and the national cyber system will sit together with Interior Ministry officials,” he said.

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