‘Israel can teach the world how to organize COVID elections,’ voter says

Staff donned protective gear at Israel's polling places for verified coronavirus patients, wearing gowns, masks and face shields.

Drone footage of a coronavirus polling place (KRONOS ARIAL PHOTOGRAPHY INC).
On Shabbat morning, Aaron Katsman woke up in his Jerusalem home to discover he had lost his sense of taste and smell. Even though he had received his second coronavirus vaccine two months ago, he tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday.
While Katsman was worried that the infection would ruin his Election Day routine, his experience at one of the special polling stations set up for coronavirus patients turned out to be very exciting, he told The Jerusalem Post.
“I love elections to begin with,” he said. “I like the atmosphere, parties handing out stickers and pamphlets, music and so on. I was sad that we could not go vote together as a family, as we usually do, but this was such a cool experience.”
The Central Elections Committee made every effort to ensure that all voters, including those who were in isolation, infected or hospitalized, were able to cast their ballot.
Voting stations in Israel's hospitals (MIRI SHMINOVITZ).Voting stations in Israel's hospitals (MIRI SHMINOVITZ).
More than 400 special drive-through polling stations for people in quarantine and some 340 for infected patients were set up, in addition to about another 40 in hospital coronavirus wards and another handful in so-called coronavirus hotels and at Ben-Gurion Airport for Israelis returning from abroad.
Katsman voted in one of the polling stations set up in a tent in the parking lot of Jerusalem’s First Station and said the process was extremely smooth.
“I received a text message with a link where I could select the exact time I wanted to vote,” he said. “The system sent me a confirmation, and I was notified that my driver would pick me up about 15 minutes before. The driver was perfectly on time. We got there, I voted, and half an hour later I was already home.”
Israelis vote at special coronavirus polling places (Israel Central Election Committee).Israelis vote at special coronavirus polling places (Israel Central Election Committee).
At the polling stations, all those coming into contact with the voters, picking up their identity cards and bringing them the ballot box, all through the cars’ windows, wore full protective gears, while those checking the documents and doing the paperwork sat behind a plastic barrier. A full plastic barrier also separated the driver, a regular cab driver, from the passenger.
 “It was so efficient and so not Israeli,” Katsman said.
Part of the reason for the system’s success might have been because the authorities had prepared for a lot more coronavirus-infected voters.
A few days before the election, the Central Elections Committee said it expected some 12,000 eligible voters infected with coronavirus and some 39,000 people in quarantine. It even planned to employ drones to monitor the situation in an effort to prevent lines.
However, with COVID-19 cases plummeting, there were only 6,700 infected voters and 22,000 voters in isolation. By 4:30 p.m., only 1,200 infected and 1,000 people in quarantine had employed the special rides provided in cooperation with Gett Taxi, a popular transportation app.
“It has been very quiet so far,” Shmuel Shitrit, a polling station secretary, told the Post.
Asked whether he was concerned about being exposed to the virus, Shitrit said he did not think it was an issue.
“First of all, I have already recovered from coronavirus and I have antibodies, and in addition, every time that a patient comes, we put on the full protective gear,” he said. “I hope everyone can come and vote. It is very important, and everything is ready for them.”
The experience was not smooth for everyone. Israeli media reported that several coronavirus voters lamented difficulties in setting up the rides or that cab drivers did not show up at the set time.
However, Katsman said Israel could teach the world something about conducting an election during a pandemic.
“Everybody has been talking about how they are sick of voting for the fourth time,” he said. “But for me, this experience was really exciting, besides for offering me the added bonus of getting out of the house. If Israel has been a model for the world in the vaccination campaign, I believe it can also be the case when it comes to this. It was unbelievable.”