There will be cameras anyway -analysis

Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric. There will be greater surveillance in this election than any others before it.

An Israeli Arab stands behind a voting booth before casting her ballot at a polling station in the northern town of Umm el-Fahm March 17, 2015 (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
An Israeli Arab stands behind a voting booth before casting her ballot at a polling station in the northern town of Umm el-Fahm March 17, 2015
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
A pertinent fact seems to have gotten lost in all the controversy surrounding the Likud’s “cameras bill:” There will be cameras in polling stations on September 17, regardless of the bill’s fate.
The whole cameras saga started on April 9, when Likud observers used hidden cameras at polling stations in some majority-Arab cities.
The Israeli voting system allows parties to place observers in any polling place they like, the theory being that they have an interest in making sure the other parties do not stuff ballot boxes. And there is no law that says they can’t bring cameras with them.
So Likud launched a project to film places where there had been reports of election fraud. On April 9, the day of the first election of 2019, people noticed the hidden cameras, and the Joint List complained to the Central Elections Committee chairman Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, who allowed cameras to be used as long as they are not hidden and not used behind the screens of voting booths.
The Likud was satisfied with the result. They argued that all of the parties’ observers may bring cameras if they want. The Joint List, however, argued that the cameras would deter people from turning out to vote.
After a second election was called, the petitions against cameras continued, and Melcer changed his mind. The parties may not bring their own cameras, but the Central Elections Committee may do so. Having observers from every party bring their own cameras would be too chaotic, so documenting the goings-on in polling stations would have to be regulated.
Fine, the Likud said. You want regulations? We’ll give you regulations. And thus, the cameras bill was born. The bill says that election observers can bring cameras into polling places, but not into voting booths.
There are cameras everywhere, at the supermarket, at schools, anyone on the street can film you with their phones, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued. Why should the polling station be the exception, when clean elections are so important?
The Joint List continued to argue the issue is meant to discourage Arab-Israeli voters. Blue and White petitioned the Supreme Court to block the bill. But the court didn’t take up the case because the law had not pass yet. And Netanyahu said the Arabs and Blue and White are in cahoots to “steal the election.”
Melcer and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit warned that the rules can’t be changed in the middle of an election, certainly not just days before the vote, but the cabinet authorized the bill on Sunday, anyway. Then, it hit a snag on Monday, when the bill’s supporters were tied with its opponents in a vote to waive the waiting period for the legislation to go to a vote. Now, it is on the Knesset agenda for Wednesday, creating an impossibly tight schedule for the Likud to try to pass it before Election Day.
In the meantime, the Central Elections Committee came up with its own plan, and has been moving forward with it.
The committee hired 3,000 supervisors, including lawyers and accountants, and borrowed 1,000 body cameras from the police. The supervisors will visit every single polling station in the country and will film anywhere there is a suspicion of fraud. In addition, the whole vote-counting process in any location the committee deemed problematic. The outline was approved by the Central Election Committee presidium, made up of Melcer, along with representatives of Shas, Labor, Blue and White, and, yes, Likud.
The great irony of this situation is that, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud MKs have been going around complaining that there will be no documentation without the cameras bill, and its opponents must be pro-fraud, Likud MK David Bitan, a close Netanyahu ally, has been part of setting up an entirely different plan for cameras in polling stations.
In addition, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, also of Likud, approved having the police lend cameras to the election supervisors, and even lauded the plan at a Histadrut Labor Union conference.
“We had serious criticism of the attorney-general for not placing cameras. We are in an age of transparency. There is no reason that there won’t be transparency and people don’t have what to hide. We will not compromise on integrity in counting the votes. In cooperation with the Central Elections Committee, we are funding 3,000 election integrity observers,” Erdan remarked.
It may help the Likud campaign to wail about stolen elections and thus boost turnout in its base. But the fact is the September 17 election will have an unprecedented level of surveillance, with 1,000 cameras in use for the express purpose of ensuring the integrity of the election.
This election will be watched more closely than any other before it.