The 70-80 percent of eligible Israelis who vote selected one of 26 slips with party symbols, or a blank that could serve as a protest against all of the 26 others with or without writing on it. They placed one slip in an official envelop, and put that envelop in the ballot box.

Here's what appeared in a voting booth. A poster with party symbols associated with each party's name in Hebrew, Arabic, and Russian,  and the slips to be chosen.

Election day is an official holiday, with public offices and many industries closed, but with buses and trains operating, and lots of stores offering special deals. The weather was warm and sunny, and families picnicked with the kids after doing their task at the polls.

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Both of the major traditional parties, i.e., Likud and Labor (currently with the label Zionist Union or Zionist Camp (המחנה הציוני) were doing their best in the last days of campaigning to take votes from the smaller parties on their side of the spectrum, i.e., right or left. 

Labor was going after the voters attracted to Lapid and Kahlon, and going easy on Meretz, perhaps out of concern that the long established leftist alternative might not make it to the minimum.

Likud was going after Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu, Bennett's Jewish Home, and Kahlon, saying that the latter was claiming Likud roots but would take right of center votes to a personal deal with Labor.

Netanyahu had announced his opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state. Likud's election day text messages stressed the efforts of overseas leftists to finance bus rides to the polls for Arab voters, and urged voting to protect Israel's Jewish character.

The last publicized polls showed a three mandate lead for Labor, with nine other parties passing the minimum to enter the Knesset. Commentators saw Bibi with a marginally better chance of creating a government, but with it possible to go to Labor, depending on the decisions of the United (Arab) List and Kahlon.

The exhausting media blather of election eve featured indications of more recent polls done by the parties and the media, which could not be publicized due to regulations meant to provide the public with some time to rest and think before the election. Media comments suggested  that Likud was closing the gap. Prominent were some last minute actions seen as signs of panic among Labor. 

Labor finally got an endorsement from its one-time leader Ehud Barak. Yet Barak's reputation as a testy creature in business for himself, most recently having left Labor leaving behind animosity and then having left politics may not have provided great weight to his endorsement.

Even closer to the voting came an announcement from Tsipi Livni that under the right circumstances she would give up Herzog's commitment to a rotation with her in the office of prime minister. Labor-friendly media announced that as her giving up the rotation. Commentators also wondered if the 11th hour announcement would help Labor, by removing an unpopular element from its campaign, or hurt Labor by indicating panic, and yet another slippery announcement that wasn't exactly a renouncement of rotation.

Livni had been a drag on the Labor ticket, with some commentators estimating that her claims of rotation might cost her colleagues as many as two Knesset seats. In a culture that gives some weight to party loyalty--but with such prominent figures as David Ben Gurion, Moshe Dayan, Shimon Peres, Ariel Sharon, and Ehud Olmert as well as Ehud Barak having changed parties for the sake of personal advantage--Livni may have set a record by changing party affiliations four times in 10 years. The size of her ego may be measured by the name of her most recent party, The Movement under the Leadership of Tsipi Livni. The Movement had six seats in the outgoing Knesset, which in combination with Labor's 16 seats seemed too little to justify her demand for rotation in the prime minister's office as the price of joining her new partner Yitzhak (Buji) Herzog. Party polls had been showing her insistence on rotation to be a drag on the party's appeal.

My own wanderings have touched on five or six parties during the run up to this election, all of them far from ideal choices. 

Early on I considered Hadash, in order to support an arena of cooperation between Jews and Arabs, but that option fell with Hadash's joining with other Arab parties, some of whose candidates are beyond the reasonable. 

Bibi's principal appeal rests on his moderation in action, along with standing up to the greatly flawed postures on the Middle East coming out of the Obama White House.

Labor presented an opportunity to replace Bibi's hyperbole and troublesome wife, but Livni's claims to be the prime promoter of peace do not stand up against her management of a cease fire for Lebanon II which has allowed the inflow of many thousands of rockets, and her more recent failure to persuade Palestinians to accept the symbolic demand of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. Herzog comes across as a decent, thoughtful person, but with all the platform presence (or charisma) of my second grade teacher. Livni was the better speaker, more certain of herself and forceful, but with a problematic record.

Both Lapid and Kahlon have attractive planks in their platforms, but both have the air of amateurs whose parties are likely to follow the path of numerous others who have captured part of the Israeli center for an election or two. 

In the end I remained with my trust in Israeli government professionals, capable of persuading politicians away from their fantasies. Also important is the structure of Israeli politics, making it impossible for any one person to decide on major steps. I made my choice from among imperfect options, without great faith that I was choosing a Prime Minister who would remain in office for four years, and bring the country significantly closer to an ideal society.

As I was about to leave for the neighborhood polling station, I glanced at the balcony and saw a gathering of three snails with about the same combined intelligence that I felt.

Exit polls projected a tie, but we woke up Wednesday morning to declarations of a Likud victory, and projections of another Netanyahu government.

It looks like Likud, along with Jewish Home, Kahlon, Lieberman, and the ultra-Orthodox parties Torah Judaism and SHAS.

It may not be a slam dunk, if one or more of the lesser parties threaten to withhold support if they don't get what they want. We're in for several weeks of haggling about ministries, policy commitments, and Knesset committee chairs. One can doubt the likelihood of great change in the society, unless those snails on my balcony know something that we do not.

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