Elections, kids, fortune cookies: A day at Israel’s polls

Spring and elections go hand in hand: the turning of the season, the chance for something new, or the renewal of the cycle.

April 9, 2019 13:50
A child helps cast a vote by placing a ballot in a box in Jerusalem's Baka neighborhood

A child helps cast a vote by placing a ballot in a box in Jerusalem's Baka neighborhood, April 9th, 2019. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Voting day in Jerusalem was all the colors of spring. Yellow flowers seem to have been sprinkled on the fields and in the bushes that line the streets just for the occasion. Spring and elections go hand in hand: the turning of the season, the chance for something new, or the renewal of the cycle.

The last time I voted was in Rehavia in Jerusalem in 2015. Jerusalem’s leafy, posh, upper-class neighborhood was quite subdued for that election day. V-15, the organization seeking to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had been handing out fliers on the eve. Netanyahu won anyway that day. He may win again now, as he attempts to extend his ten years in power as head of the Likud.

Our family now lives in Beit HaKarem, a more middle-class neighborhood. It is our first time going to the polls with several children in tow. It’s good for the children to see democracy in action, even if they don’t really understand it and the ramifications involved. On the way, passing a neighborhood supermarket, a traffic jam has been formed. For some reason the municipality decided to dig up a perfectly functioning four-way crossing and put in a roundabout last year. But the roundabout was ill-designed, not allowing the free flow of traffic. So now the neighborhood has endless traffic jams in the morning. And this morning is worse than usual because so many people are off work on Election Day. A man, stuck in the traffic, shouts at people going by, “vote for Bibi.”

Up the street and around a small playground is a community center that is used for voting. The large multi-story building has been sectioned off into several polling stations. It’s a bit confusing to find the correct one. A police officer sits on a seat as we try to look from entrance to entrance for the correct numbers listed on the voting ticket that comes in the mail before Election Day. The ticket gives your “kalpi” or voting location.

Just outside the perimeter of the policewoman are all of the parties handing out election material. Blue and White has a nice little stand-up booth, as does Labor. Likud just has a little table and a young woman in front. The Union of Right Parties has several young men asking everyone going by if they voted. If you want, you can have a sticker for your shirt with their name on it. The only other “swag” being given out are some fortune cookies in a bag that Labor has brought. But someone hasn’t thought to open up the bag, so they are just getting stale in the sun. This is probably symbolic of Labor’s electoral chances in general, the one giant party reduced to an estimated ten seats this year.

Gesher, a party run by Orly Levy-Abecassis, has a giant poster strung up between trees. A man who apparently was supposed to be handing out her fliers has arrived late - I only see him after we leave the area an hour later. She was once an MK for Yisrael Beytenu, but then resigned from the party and is running her own list, which doesn’t look likely to pass the 3.25% threshold needed to get seats.

Election posters near a community center used for polling on Election Day (Seth J. Frantzman)

Kahlon seems to have two booths. It’s unclear why their volunteers put up one down the street and a second nearer the station. The New Right has volunteers who have positioned themselves opposite Meretz; this also seems symbolic. And one has to run the gauntlet trying to escape the endless fliers the volunteers want to stuff in your hands. It feels like an Ephraim Kishon film.

Inside the community center, a warren of stairs takes you to the polling station. It’s actually a classroom of some sort. There are a tremendous number of elderly people coming to vote. Some of the rooms have a line of people, others just one person waiting to vote. Entering, there is a long table of election monitors. One takes the voting card, one searches for your number on a large chart of voters who are supposed to vote at this location, one gives you an envelope and another takes your ID, like opening a tab at a bar. This always strikes me as a normal way to vote: I never understood why in the United States, “voting ID” laws are controversial. Isn’t it normal to show your ID to vote?

After receiving the little envelope to put your vote slip in, and having your ID taken in return, the voter goes behind a little screen where three boxes hold slips for all of the dozens of parties running - a record number in this election. It is at this point that voters realize they should have paid attention to which letters represent each party. The little slips of paper in the boxes represent the parties, and although ostensibly each has the party name listed, most have large black letters that the parties have chosen on them to stand out. There are so many parties running that it’s a bit chaotic to find the one to vote for, even if you recall the right letters. This challenge overcome, the voter can now drop her or his envelope into a large blue box that will eventually be taken away to be counted.

Not much seems to have changed since the 1950s. No electronic voting here. No hacking. No punch cards and hanging chads. Israel doesn’t innovate much here, but that means it doesn’t have to be concerned too much about such problems.

Back outside, a helicopter and small plane seem to be buzzing around. The birds are chirping. One of my kids, who has come to see the democratic process, is looking for bees. He’s just seen Bee Movie with Jerry Seinfeld and wants to see real bees. Voting was fun. Now on to the playground.

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