IDF soldiers voting 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
The final surprise of the elections turned out to be the lack of change on Thursday as the double-sealed ballots revealed that unlike in previous years, soldiers' votes did not pull the Knesset rightward.
Whereas in the past, Arab parties tended to lose a mandate and Center-Right parties like Likud tended to gain one, the late-counted ballots this time did not change the distribution of Knesset seats or break the deadlock.
Among those disappointed by the count were the right-wing parties. Due to a surplus vote-sharing agreement between former faction partners Habayit Hayehudi and National Union, the parties were optimistic that Habayit Hayehudi, which teetered on the edge of picking up a fourth mandate, would benefit from the many soldiers who identify with the national-religious camp.
But the two parties combined fell just over 8,000 votes short of picking up an extra seat in the Knesset.
Some commentators offered the theory that additional Arab turnout in response to the success of Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu Party had lowered the effect of the soldiers' votes by reducing their proportional significance.
Vote-counters noted that among the ballots cast by soldiers, captive IDF soldier St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit's name appeared on dozens of write-in white ballots, whereas others voiced their general discontent by writing messages such as "Nobody" or "They're all liars."
At least one voter wrote "Hamas" in Arabic on his ballot.
The last can be explained by the fact that while the ballots counted after the regular polls are completed are known as "soldiers' votes," they actually represent a number of demographics that share an inability to vote at the polling station near their official place of residence.
Ballots cast by soldiers, sailors, prisoners, the disabled and government employees working overseas are all included in this category, and are submitted in a double envelope, with the outer envelope including personal information about the voter to prevent voter fraud.
In addition to 700 polling stations at IDF and Border Police bases, double envelopes from 194 hospital polling stations, 1,319 stations for the disabled, 92 at embassies and consulates overseas and 56 in prisons all were tallied on Thursday and added to the totals recorded on Tuesday and early Wednesday.
The Central Elections Committee said Thursday evening that a total of 3,373,490 legal ballots had been tallied, after committee employees weeded out blank ballots, illegal ballots, and ballots that had been placed in envelopes together with other ballots.
According to the committee's computations, each mandate was worth 27,246 votes. One party - The Green Movement-Meimad - technically had enough votes to pick up a mandate, garnering 27,737 votes, or around 0.8 percent of the valid votes cast; however, it fell short of the 2% minimum required to enter the Knesset.
None of the other small parties came close, with the Gil Pensioner's Party edging out the Green Leaf Party by 4,000 votes for the dubious title of second-largest loser.