Comptroller to oversee election controversies in real time

Following a report on Channel 13 that he would be increasing his involvement in guarding the purity of the election, right-wing NGO Im Tirtzu put out an enthusiastic statement.

STATE COMPTROLLER Matanyahu Englman. (photo credit: Courtesy)
STATE COMPTROLLER Matanyahu Englman.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
What does it mean that State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman will be checking video footage in real time of voters arriving at voting booths on March 23?
Following a report on Channel 13 that he would be increasing his involvement in guarding the purity of the election, right-wing NGO Im Tirtzu put out an enthusiastic statement.
The group, which along with the Likud has complained in recent years about alleged voter fraud in the Arab sector, said that the involvement of Englman meant their concerns would finally be addressed.
Has Englman – seen by many as close to Netanyahu – taken a side in the controversy over allegations regarding the Arab sector?
A spokeswoman for Englman rejected this narrative, saying Englman and the comptroller’s office are following and inspecting elections on a regular basis, both on Election Day and afterward.
She said there was no difference in fact between Englman and his staff monitoring the results of video footage of voters entering voting stations (no one records the actual act of voting), and their prior activities probing campaign finance, cyber defense readiness and other issues.
Responding to the Channel 13 report and the Im Tirtzu response, the spokeswoman said that the media and certain groups have their own agendas, but that the comptroller’s office has not changed anything about its approach to elections.
The only thing that was new, the spokeswoman said, was that the election commission itself had started to monitor those entering polling stations using video cameras.
As such, she said that Englman’s monitoring of this footage was consistent with his following all of the election commission’s activities, but that had the commission not gotten into the video footage business, he would not have either.
She declined to say whether Englman would try to intervene in real time should there be a dispute on whether a voter was impersonating someone, but acknowledged that Englman does not have power over the election commission.
Instead, as with the full breadth of government agencies regarding which he performs oversight, his role is to identify problems and recommend improvements, not to give binding concrete directives.
Whether Englman’s recommendations may be used by others as ammunition for trying to convince the election commission or the courts to disqualify certain ballots has already been argued.
In August 2019, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit told the Central Elections Commission in a legal brief that it lacked the authority to declare the Likud’s proposal to place video cameras at Israeli-Arab polling stations legal.
Mandelblit said that due to the constitutional issues involved as well as potential criminal liability, only a full-fledged Knesset law might be able to create a constitutional balance allowing the use of video cameras.
He said that a mere administrative decision by the commission would be insufficient to make legal the controversial proposal in question.
During the April 2019 election, the Likud party placed cameras at a number of Israeli-Arab polling stations without advanced permission, and were referred to Mandelblit for criminal violations of the right to privacy.
The attorney-general avoided charging Likud members with a crime for their past conduct, but took a strong stand against allowing the use of the video cameras in the September 2019 election.
While Mandelblit’s August 2019 letter cited a number of legal problems with the use of cameras at select polling stations, the central issues were privacy rights regarding voting, the potential for creating illicit data banks from the videos, and concern over voter intimidation.
In addition, the state’s legal brief to the commission noted that the police nixed a compromise proposal that allowed for them to be placed at polling stations with body cameras.
While this might seem less invasive and more neutral, the police said it was a practical impossibility as they only have the manpower to maintain public order but not to man polling stations.
However even in 2019, Mandelblit was not opposed to using video footage in future elections given proper advance planning, and balancing between stopping voter fraud and avoiding voter intimidation.
For the March 23 election, there may be as many as thousands of body-cameras worn by election workers (Channel 13 estimated 2,000) at the 15,000 polling stations across the country.