Israel Elections: Why are mobility-impaired voting booths inaccessible? - comment

This wasn’t some nefarious plot to suppress the rights of mobility-impaired Israeli voters. Rather, it was likely just another classic case of Israeli disorganization and bureaucratic inefficiency.

 Arab Israelis cast their vote at a voting station in Tayibe, during the Knesset Elections, on November 1, 2022. (photo credit: JAMAL AWAD/FLASH90)
Arab Israelis cast their vote at a voting station in Tayibe, during the Knesset Elections, on November 1, 2022.
(photo credit: JAMAL AWAD/FLASH90)

Israelis have returned to the polls once again for elections. That’s fine and expected, and at this point, it would be surprising if we didn’t go to another election soon. But despite how used to voting we all are at this point, some Israelis still struggle to actually get to the voting booths.

This was the situation I encountered on Tuesday – a mobility-impaired Israeli who found the “accessible voting booths” anything but easily accessible.

Israel provides mobility-impaired voting booths for those who have trouble accessing other voting booths. These can be done in any city and, importantly, you may not need to be legally considered mobility impaired – a blessing for those who still struggle with getting recognized by the National Insurance Institute.

How to find mobility-impaired voting booths in Israel

Just finding the locations in the first place was a Kafkaesque ordeal. The link on the Central Elections Committee’s website didn’t work. The committee’s representative sent me a list of special voting booths for COVID-19 patients, and its support center simply read to me locations from the same list before eventually telling me something to the effect of, “Well, good luck!”

 People cast their vote at a voting station for people with COVID-19, in Jerusalem, during the Knesset Elections, on November 1, 2022.  (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) People cast their vote at a voting station for people with COVID-19, in Jerusalem, during the Knesset Elections, on November 1, 2022. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

I eventually managed to find an online map the night before Election Day that pointed out the locations of disability voting booths. This shouldn’t happen. People with mobility impairments often need to plan out their entire route and schedule in advance, especially on days like Election Day. That these locations weren’t known days in advance is inexcusable and can make finding directions in advance and any other information extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Mobility-impaired voting in Israel: An uphill – or rather, upstairs – battle

But nonetheless, that’s what I tried to do, and I eagerly hobbled over to the nearest location on the map – only to be greeted by a flight of stairs.

Wincing in pain, I hobbled down the stairs to the entrance and asked the guard where the accessibility voting booths were. He gestured up another flight of stairs.

I walked up the stairs and saw a clearing that I thought would lead to the voting booths – but no, it led to more stairs.

Then I finally found voting booths. I asked the information desk where I could go vote, and they gestured to – you guessed it – another flight of stairs.

“Seriously?” I asked. “The mobility-impaired voting is up more flights of stairs than the unimpaired voting booths?”

“Yeah, what a shame,” was the reply I got.

So I climbed up more stairs and finally got to vote – after standing in line for a while. Afterward, what did I see waiting for me? There was another entrance to the area, one I knew nothing about and one that directions didn’t tell me about.

Why didn’t I know about this? Well, this may have been on the information the Central Elections Committee is supposed to send to your address before every election. Though perhaps due to the fault of the Israel Postal Company, this was information I, and many others, have never received before any election.

I asked again why this was the case, as surely this must have happened before.

The response I was given was a shrug, followed by, “Just drive somewhere else to vote then.”

When I pointed out I don’t have a car, the response was another shrug and “What a shame.”

This wasn’t some nefarious plot to suppress the rights of mobility-impaired Israeli voters. Rather, it was likely just another classic case of Israeli disorganization and bureaucratic inefficiency.

While Israel has made many strides in helping provide accessibility for those with mobility impairments, there is clearly still much work to be done. Let’s just hope this won’t be an issue next time.

But if Israelis still have to rely on an inefficient Israel Postal Company to find out these things, change may be as inaccessible as the voting booths were.