Knesset to vote today on cameras in polling stations

Netanyahu: Cameras necessary to ensure clean election. Bill may include penalty for not voting.

By
September 8, 2019 22:05
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the cabinet over a bill regarding the placing of cameras

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the cabinet over a bill regarding the placing of cameras in polling stations, while Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit sits in the background, September 8 2019. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The Knesset is expected to vote today on the “cameras bill” to allow surveillance in polling stations, in an irregular legislative process launched only eight days before Election Day.

The bill allows election observers to bring video cameras into polling stations, but not behind the screen in voting booths or anywhere that would reveal people’s votes. Most election observers are associated with political parties, such that the parties observe each other, and the bill would keep within that system allowing the parties to supply their observers with the cameras, rather than the government buying them.

A special committee, expected to be led by Likud MK Miki Zohar, is set to be formed and approved by the plenary on Monday. This is because no government was formed after the last election, and Knesset’s regular committees remain unmanned. The panel will then have to waive the usual two-week waiting period following the cabinet’s approval – which the bill received on Sunday – for the first reading to be held on Monday.

The yet-unformed committee plans to hold a marathon meeting all day on Tuesday, and then the second and third (final) votes in the Knesset plenum will begin on Wednesday, likely spilling over to Thursday.

In Sunday’s cabinet meeting, the government disregarded the objections of the attorney-general and unanimously approved legislation mandating the placing of cameras in polling places to prevent fraud.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of the meeting that clean elections are one of the foundations of democracy, that the best way to prevent voter fraud is through the placement of cameras, and that mutual supervision by competing parties is the way to ensure transparency in democratic elections.

But Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, in a rare appearance at the meeting, opposed the move, saying that although he was not opposed to cameras at the polling place in principle, it is not something that can be done overnight. He said this is something that must be done in an orderly and organized fashion, something not possible before the election next week.
Netanyahu, however, said that “putting cameras in polling places by elections supervisors is the necessary means to ensure clean elections. The secret of the balloting will be carefully preserved. Already in 2013, Judge Elyakim Rubinstein – who was the chairman of the election committee – said ‘there is a need to think about cameras.’”

Regarding the last election in April, Netanyahu said that the chairman of the election committee, Hanan Melcer, has said that voter fraud is a “true problem.”

“Therefore, problems need to be solved, and problems with elections need to be solved before the election,” Netanyahu said. “When should the problem be solved? After the election?”

The prime minister said that there is no need for special preparation for the camera or special equipment, and that every polling place monitor can film with their mobile phones.

“This happens in all public spaces,” he said. “Everyone films, every grocery store is documented with cameras, but it is not possible to film precisely in the polling place? Cameras in polling places to ensure clean elections is simple, logical, transparent and right.”

The prime minister said it is “impossible to explain why cameras are limited precisely in the public place where transparency is needed more than anywhere else,” he said. “We will bring this issue to legislation to ensure that the upcoming election will be clean and supervised, just as Israeli citizens expect.”

Melcer confirmed on Sunday that the committee, in coordination with Mandelblit, approved a plan for the police to lend them 1,000 body cameras to be used by 3,000 “election integrity observers” on Election Day, Globes reported. The observers will go to every polling station in the country over the course of the day and will only use cameras if they suspect wrongdoing.

In addition, the entire vote-counting process will be filmed in polling places the Central Elections Committee – including representatives of Likud, Blue and White, Shas and Labor – deemed problematic.

“This outline is a satisfactory arrangement for all the problems that were brought up, and taking up another way could harm the integrity of the election and its proper order,” the committee stated.

Despite the bill’s unanimous approval in the cabinet, it is unclear if there will be a majority to support it in the Knesset. The cabinet members’ parties only make up 60 seats, and Kulanu MK Roy Folkman – who is not running in the current election – is not expected to show up and vote.

Yisrael Beytenu’s five seats would be enough to push the bill to majority support. Party leader Avigdor Liberman said on Meet the Press on Saturday night that he would only support the bill if it is passed in conjunction with a law he called “mandatory voting,” but would in reality be “incentives” for voting. He reversed course several hours later, writing on Facebook: “We will support the cameras and we never set conditions for it.”

Nevertheless, Zohar attempted to appeal to Liberman by saying that “mandatory voting” may be added to the cameras bill between the first and second reading in the Knesset.

Liberman supports a mandatory voting proposal by which people would only get a free day off work if they vote. Currently, Election Day is a vacation day for everyone. A sharp increase in voter turnout across the board would neutralize the advantage that Liberman’s current political enemies – haredi parties Shas and UTJ – have due to very high turnout in their communities, due to the directives of their religious leaders.

Even the camera bill’s ostensive supporters did not express much enthusiasm for it.

Although Education Minister Rafi Peretz and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich of Yamina voted in favor, the party’s leader, Ayelet Shaked, told Walla News: “Cameras in polling stations are important, and it would be good if the Central Elections Committee would set them up. That would be the best... The whole story with the bill is part of the Likud campaign. But in principle, it’s a good thing.”

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh said that Netanyahu is pushing this bill because he knows if he’s voted out of office, he will end up in prison.

“He will do everything to awaken panicked voters on the Right and suppress Arab votes,” Odeh stated. “They don’t even want to pass the cameras law. They want it to be blocked. He’s laying the groundwork for the day on which he’ll declare ‘Arabs are stealing the election,’ and if he loses, he’ll dispute the result.”

Former prime minister Ehud Barak, a candidate on the Democratic Union list, said that Netanyahu is “putting himself before democracy and the country,” and that “the Likud has become a shelter for people suspected of crimes.”


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