Think-tanks, NGOs advocate open primary system on Election Day

The proposed step would mean voters would vote not just for a party, but also for those in the party they support.

April 3, 2019 02:31
2 minute read.
Think-tanks, NGOs advocate open primary system on Election Day

Dr. Assaf Shapira. (photo credit: COURTESY IDI)


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A group of think-tanks and NGOs are advocating for adopting an open primary system on Election Day.

The Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), the Kohelet Forum, Israel 2050, the National Union of Israeli Students and the Israel Leadership Forum have joined together to call for the implementation of what is often referred to among academics as the “semi-open ballot.”

According to Dr. Assaf Shapira, director of IDI’s Political Reform Program, this means that on Election Day, an individual voter would first select the party of his or her choice. Then, the voter would be provided with a list of the candidates on that party’s list. He or she would be able to select his or her favorite candidates from this list or rank the list in some way.

If a certain candidate receives an agreed upon percentage of votes, he or she might move up on the party list, which could make the difference between the candidate entering the Knesset or not.

Shapira explained that in recent years, the public’s influence on the composition of party lists submitted for the Knesset elections has been diminishing due both to the fact that fewer parties choose their lists through primaries and because the number of registered political party members has decreased significantly over the last decades. As a result, the already tenuous connection between elected officials and voters is also diminishing.

He said these developments make it necessary to reassess the situation and adopt a new system.

Shapira told The Jerusalem Post that some 18 out of the 21 OECD member democracies with similar electoral systems as Israel’s (a proportional system with lists of candidates), have already adopted similar methods, providing voters to with greater input on the composition of candidate lists. He explained that variations of the system can allow for more or less voter influence.

The hope is that such a change would improve Knesset members’ commitment, responsiveness and responsibility to voters. It might also encourage parties to include more qualified candidates on their lists and reduce the amount of corruption, vote contracting and other negative influences that exist in Israel’s current primary system.

So far, Shapira said, political leaders who have been approached about this idea have responded favorably, likely because even though any change to the electoral system at first seems dramatic, the open primary system is mostly a “technical change.”

“The parties already prepare a list of candidates so it would just be putting that list out there for the voters on Election Day,” Shapira said. “Today, there is no transparency.”

He said the think-tanks and NGOs are recommending that the party leader – No. 1 on the party list – not be voted upon on Election day, but continue to be fully selected by the party.

“Many citizens, especially young people, have begun to comprehend that they hold very little influence over their elected officials,” added Guy Globerman, co-founder of the National Union of Israeli Students. “We hope that in the next elections, legislation will be amended accordingly to allow the parties to successfully implement a ‘semi-open ballot’ system.”

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