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Voting in Israel: Not as bad as Florida
By MELANIE LIDMAN
01/22/2013
First-time voter embraces quaint system "that probably hasn’t changed since the founding of the State."
 
I don’t know what American political reporters write about for two years covering just two parties. They must be bored stiff.

In Israel, my first election season was a whirlwind of colors, parties, random assignments of letters, political infighting and rumors flying in every direction, angry rabbis promising blessings to those who voted the correct way, last-minute press conferences breaking propaganda rules, coalition possibilities going up in smoke, and Meretz activists making rounds of the bars and giving out shots of terrible green-tinted Arak.

All of those elements came to a culmination on Tuesday, when I made my way to my neighborhood elementary school, filled with brightly lit aquariums and student drawings taped to the walls, and stood behind a piece of turquoise cardboard.

“It’s my first time voting in Israel!” I gushed to the three election monitors, whose eyes were glazed over with spreadsheets and long lists of names of voters.

On my way into the school I didn’t stop to talk to any of the cheerful activists outside: I had labored for hours over my decision, poring over party platforms and debating for days with friends, and I didn’t want anyone to change my mind at the last minute.

Jerusalem had a feeling of a city on holiday, and I practically skipped toward my designated voting location.

“It’s weird, I don’t recognize anyone on the street,” Marik Shtern, an activist with Yerushalmim, said as he sat at a bustling local café, as dozens of people took advantage of the sunshine and the day off of work. “All the really old people are out, the ones you don’t see normally because they stay home. And you see lots of people coming back to Jerusalem to vote [who used to live here but haven’t yet changed their residence], and they’re all secular. It feels like the way Jerusalem used to be,” he said.

So after three months of campaigns and as the city basked in a holiday atmosphere, here was the moment of truth: just me and a table full of strange letters, separated from the three election monitors by the turquoise piece of cardboard.

I had laughed at the whole process of choosing letters for parties as needlessly confusing, especially after receiving urgent text messages Tuesday morning from the Yesh Atid Party, claiming that someone had switched Yesh Atid’s “peh-heh” slips with the “heh-peh” slips of a little-known party called Haim B’Kavod.

Many people I know disparaged Israel’s low-tech voting system – stuffing a note in a sealed envelope, then pushing it through a slot in a cardboard box. But as a recent immigrant, there’s something comforting knowing that I’m taking part in a ritual that probably hasn’t changed since the founding of the state. I missed out on being a pioneer, but at least I can still vote like one. Or, as my brother so helpfully pointed out after seeing a photo, it looks like I’m voting for the high school student council.

With that, I double and triple checked my voting slip, then put it in the envelope.

“Want me to take your picture?” asked one of the monitors, as I posed in front of the voting box.

“Absolutely!” I answered, another step toward my aliya journey complete.

My smile reached ear to ear as I left the elementary school after voting. There’s something about participating in democracy that really puts a spring in your step.

And no matter how old-fashioned our voting system is, we can take comfort in one thing: No way is it as bad as Florida.
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