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'The voter won't get out of the vehicle'

With drive-thrus for voters with COVID, Israel prepares for election in pandemic

Elections committee director promises 30% more polling stations, and 2 booths at each, to reduce crowds at March 2021 vote; nursing homes, virus wards to get own booths

A demo photo of a "Vote and drive station" provided by the Central Elections Committee on December 28, 2020, shows a model of a drive-thru voting station for coronavirus carriers that will be set up for the elections on March 23, 2021. (Central Elections Committee)
A demo photo of a "Vote and drive station" provided by the Central Elections Committee on December 28, 2020, shows a model of a drive-thru voting station for coronavirus carriers that will be set up for the elections on March 23, 2021. (Central Elections Committee)

The director-general of the Central Elections Committee on Monday announced a raft of measures being prepared to enable a safe election in March amid COVID-19, including the introduction of drive-thrus and other special voting locations to service the ill and the quarantined. Other steps will include increasing the number of polling stations by some 30% to reduce crowds; placing two voting booths in every station to speed up the process; and designating workers to ensure adherence to health guidelines at all sites.

During a press briefing, Orly Adas highlighted the logistical challenges of holding a national vote during a pandemic. She noted that only 13 people had been infected with COVID-19 and some 4,500 under quarantine during elections last March, when the coronavirus was only beginning to appear in Israel, compared with the current tally of over 35,000 active cases and some 120,000 people self-isolating.

״Our desire is… to give the opportunity to all eligible voters to go vote, but we’ll do all this while taking all possible measures to safeguard public health,” Adas said during a press briefing. “This is the goal we’ve set for ourselves.”

Adas said that election workers cannot connect to the CEC’s computer system from home, so the committee will be taking particular care to ensure no election workers contract the virus ahead of the polling, which could send a large number of employees into quarantine and hamper the election process.

Central Elections Committee head Orly Adas shows a mock quarantined vote, during a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem on February 26, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Adas said face masks will be given to Israelis who show up maskless at polling places; protective dividers will be placed between voters and election workers; voting stations will be regularly disinfected; and dividers will be placed between ballot boxes.

The committee rejected a proposal to hold the election over multiple days to prevent crowding, according to Adas.

However, the number of voters registered at each polling station will be reduced to 600-650, and the number of voting sites will thus be increased by some 30 percent. There will also be designated poll workers to ensure people wear masks and socially distance.

She added that the committee was looking for additional public buildings and facilities to hold voting stations.

Adas also said the committee was working to set up designated stations for voters required to quarantine, including some drive-thru voting sites.

“The voter won’t get out of the vehicle and a voting stand with ballots will be placed next to the car window,” she said of the drive-through plan. “He’ll then drive 1.5 meters and a ballot box will be waiting for him. If two people come together, for example a couple who are both sick, one of them will be asked to get out of the vehicle and wait outside while the other votes,” she said.

A graphic provided by the Central Elections Committee on December 28, 2020, shows a model of a drive-thru voting station for coronavirus carriers that will be set up for the elections on March 23, 2021. (Central Elections Committee)

Special polling places will also be set up at senior living facilities, coronavirus quarantine hotels and coronavirus wards at hospitals.

Turning to ensuring the integrity of the election, Adas said there would be a greater number of poll workers, with an inspector per station rather than for every two. She said the inspectors will be given tools to deal with any irregularities and that vote counting will be recorded in full.

Asked by The Times of Israel about ensuring public trust in the voting process in the wake of the US presidential elections, in which President Donald Trump and many of his supporters have made unfounded claims of large-scale fraud, Adas said all issues about election integrity raised in the last Israeli elections had eventually proven to be baseless, and that committee inspectors will be at polling stations to prevent such claims.

She also noted there is no mail-in voting in Israel, making any anxieties over postal ballots irrelevant.

Officials count vote ballots from the elections at the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 4, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Adas also said the committee was expecting 500,000 so-called double envelope ballots from soldiers, diplomats, handicapped citizens, hospital patients and staff, and prisoners.

There will be a need to count these special ballots quickly, as the election is being held three days before Passover eve.

A plan to complete the process swiftly and reliably was still being formulated, she noted.

The upcoming elections, the fourth in two years, will be held on March 23, 90 days after the Knesset dissolved over the Likud and Blue and White parties failing to agree on a budget by the December 23 deadline.

Current vaccination rates suggest much of the population may be vaccinated by election day. Asked on Channel 12 news on Friday whether Israel would essentially have completed its vaccination drive by March 23, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the acting head of the Health Ministry’s public health services, carefully avoided a direct answer but stressed that the ministry was doing everything in its power to expedite the arrival of sufficient vaccine doses and to accelerate the inoculation program. The Pfizer vaccines which Israel is using require two doses, three weeks apart.

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