With no online voting, Israel would face costly COVID-19 elections

Should the country face elections in November, it’s possible the economy will lose two work days, not just one.

Election campaign posters outside a voting station in Karnei Shomron, in the West Bank, during the Knesset Elections, on March 2, 2020. (photo credit: SRAYA DIAMANT/FLASH90)
Election campaign posters outside a voting station in Karnei Shomron, in the West Bank, during the Knesset Elections, on March 2, 2020.
(photo credit: SRAYA DIAMANT/FLASH90)
With no time to set up an online voting system, if the August 24 budget deadline is not met or if legislation does not delay it, Israel will face costlier elections than ever before due to COVID-19.
Israeli elections normally take one day and cost the economy about NIS 3.8 billion. Citizens are exempt from work, so production is nearly halted.
If Israel goes to elections during the novel coronavirus pandemic, it likely will be spread out over two days because people will have to vote in small groups and maintain social distancing. It will also cost money to ensure all voting stations have masks and disinfectants.
“They will need more voting stations and to hire more workers than usual,” a seasoned election observer said.
Until now, Israelis used the day for leisure or family events, spending roughly NIS 970 million in stores and shopping centers after voting and consumed NIS 1.1b. worth of goods and services via credit cards.
Due to COVID-19 health concerns and the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, it is unlikely such sums will be spent should elections be held.
“There is no such decision, so we’re not there yet,” a Finance Ministry source told The Jerusalem Post.
The ministry has its hands full with ongoing work, and other than the NIS 500m. usually earmarked for the Elections Committee, not much more can be known at this time, the source said.
 During the March elections, the committee erected 11,000 voting stations and needed a 19.8% increase in its budget to pay election workers as an incentive to work when others get time off.
It is unclear if the current high unemployment rate will mean people will seek work on that day, meaning further increases will not be needed, or if people will be scared of possible infection and decline the chance to supplement their income, meaning more pay might be needed to get workers. Israel is currently a “Red State” with high infection rates.
“Discussions will be held” in the near future about “the many issues holding elections would involve,” the Elections Committee spokesperson told the Post.
Should elections be held, their cost will include about NIS 30m. for MKs who will face primary elections in their parties and NIS 230m. for all parties currently in the Knesset.
Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron warned that a fourth election in 19 months could severely damage the Israeli economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, especially if the government does not decide to pass a biennial budget soon.
“The government must move as fast as possible in setting a clear outline for the state budget and other economic decisions required at this time,” he said in a statement issued by the Finance Ministry.
“Israel is most likely the most generous country in the developed world when it comes to the public funding it provides to political parties,” Dr. Assaf Shapira of the Israel Democracy Institute told the Post.
Israeli parties rely almost exclusively on public funding, he said. Only 3% of the funding came from private donations in 2015.
“This is an unnecessary waste of public funds,” Shapira said.
Israel spent about NIS 10b. on the three recent elections, including direct expenses, such as funding parties and the Elections Committee, as well as losses incurred because of the lost day of labor.
With this amount of money, it would have been possible to build five state-of-the-art hospitals across the country or finance a quarter of a train service to Eilat, Ynet reported in December.
If the country holds elections in November, even more money will be added to that calculation.
Zachary Keyser contributed to this report.