Israeli Election Day is still surprisingly low-tech

Rachel Neiman, Israel21c, April 8, 2019

With permission, read full article at Israel21c.

Election season in Israel is traditionally a raucous affair.

But unlike the lead-up to Election Day, the voting process is staid, tedious and – despite the sporadic appearance of politicians and celebrities coming to cast their votes – pretty unglamorous.

No electronic polling stations. No online voting. Only paper chits, envelopes, a cardboard partition and a box in which to cast one’s ballot.

So, how does this low-tech voting process work?

The more than 10,000 polling stations are generally in public schools and community centers, where voters line up starting at 7:00 in the morning for most stations.

Ashdod residents lining up to vote, 1965. Photo courtesy of GPO

Voters identify themselves before the polling station committee using either an official ID card (teudat zehut), Israeli passport, Israeli driver’s license or – for those who hold them, a Knesset member ID.

Parents and child cast their vote at a polling station in Tel Aviv, 1984. GPO

The Interior Ministry may approve identification without a photo ID in rare cases, such as Muslim women who wear a veil.

Arab women waiting to vote at the Joarish neighborhood of Ramle, 1978. Photo courtesy of GPO

Every voter is given an envelope before entering the voting booth. Inside the booth is a tray holding slips of paper. Each slip has the name of a party and the symbol of the party comprising 1-4 letters.

Voting slips roll off the presses, 1959. Photo courtesy of GPO

It should be noted that voters cast their ballot for the party of their choice and not for a particular candidate. There are no “candidates” for prime minister – only for party lists headed by their chosen leader. (There were, however, two rounds of direct elections of prime minister, in 1996 and 1999).

Labor party leader David Ben-Gurion and wife Paula Ben-Gurion present their IDs at their Tel Aviv polling station, 1949. Photo courtesy of GPO

Polling stations for soldiers serving in the IDF open 72 hours before Election Day and soldiers may cast their votes from then up to the end of the election.

Field polling stations for on-duty IDF soldiers, 1951. Photo courtesy of GPO

At polling stations in smaller communities, hospitals and prisons, voting takes place between 8am and 8pm.

Wounded soldiers voting at Tel-Hashomer hospital, 1973. Photo courtesy of GPO

Many Israeli high schools hold mock elections prior to the real thing, most famously the Blich High School in Ramat Gan, which is reputed for its accuracy in judging election outcomes.

High school mock elections in 1969. Photo courtesy of Dan Hadani Archive/National Library of Israel

The sectional sky-blue tray filled with party symbol chits has become so synonymous with elections that it has become a symbol in itself. Even the Ramat Gan Safari got into the act this year.

“Elections” at the Ramat Gan Safari. Photo: courtesy

Voters select the slip that represents their chosen party and seal the slip in the envelope. After exiting the voting booth, the voter places the envelope in the ballot box.

A polling station at Kibbutz Ma’aleh Hachamisha, 1959. Photo courtesy of GPO

And then, the tallying begins…

Counting ballots, 1977. Photo courtesy of GPO

According to the Ministry of Interior, the advantage to this voting method is that it is user-friendly, even to voters who have limited knowledge of Hebrew and Arabic.

Immigrants from Cochin, India, voting at Mesillat Yesharim in 1956. Photo courtesy of GPO

Because Election Day is a national holiday, voters will have the rest of the day to chew their nails – or go to the beach or sit in a café — until the polls close at 10pm and election results come in.GIVE