Likud race stretches into night due to computer fiasco

The Likud Party suffered an embarrassing blow on Monday when problems with its computer system and long lines at polling stations forced the party's legal advisers to extend the voting in its primary race until at least 1 a.m. Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu wanted to resume the voting for at least a few hours on Tuesday afternoon, but his nemesis, party activist Moshe Feiglin, threatened to petition the High Court of Justice, and the party's legal advisers decided that there was no legal basis for allowing the vote to go on for another day. The head of the Likud's election committee, retired judge Yehoshua Gross, said he made the decision to extend the voting in an effort to enable as many Likud members as possible to vote. By press time, nearly 50 percent of the party's 99,000 members had managed to cast their ballots. Likud director-general Gadi Arielli apologized to Likud members for the foul-up. Unlike in last week's Labor primary, when the entire system crashed early on in the day, Monday's Likud polling saw individual computer stations breaking down. Even when the computers worked, the complicated program used for the voting resulted in the average Likud member taking much longer to vote than would have been needed with manual voting. Likud director-general Arielli sent extra ushers to explain to people how to vote, but said he could not add more polling stations because the computer system was unique and brought especially from abroad. "There is no doubt that computerized voting has a long way to improve," Netanyahu told reporters at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, hours after he himself experienced difficulties with the computer system. "You need to have a doctorate to understand how to vote," he said after casting his ballot in Jerusalem. Netanyahu's political opponents blamed him for the problems with the computers. They accused him of manipulating the voting system in an effort to ensure that only his favored candidates would get elected. They noted that even at midnight, Netanyahu was still calling on party members who hadn't voted to come to the polls, which was likely to extend the voting even further into the night. "Bibi is raping democracy," said a spokesman for the Kadima Party, which is expected to decide Tuesday to replace its computerized system with a manual one for its December 17 primary. "He proved again that he takes advantage of democracy to serve his own needs." Feiglin told The Jerusalem Post that he had pleaded with Netanyahu in advance of the vote to have a manual backup voting system ready, to no avail. Feiglin said he was afraid that had the voting been extended another day, Netanyahu would have tampered with the computer system overnight to change the results. "Computerized elections are a very bad idea," Feiglin said. "Numbers could be changed by any clerk at the computer company who could easily be bribed. "Netanyahu blatantly interfered with the voting because he was afraid [of me]," he continued. "It cannot be a coincidence that there were systematic problems specifically at the polling stations where my supporters live." Netanyahu's critics noted that there were polling stations in only 90 locales, as opposed to 120 in the Likud chairmanship race two years ago. There seemed to be a shortage of polling stations in Judea and Samaria and there was only one in Jerusalem, at the Jerusalem International Convention Center, where the lines were very long all day. The polling station in Jerusalem opened two hours late after a bulldozer conducting infrastructure work severed an fiber-optic cabel and caused widespread disruptions in phone and computer services throughout the city. A scare caused by a suspicious object also caused problems at the polling station later in the day. Ephraim Shore of Beitar Illit, who is originally from Canada, came to the Jerusalem polling station twice to vote, but both times decided not to, due to the daunting lines. "I am just not that committed to the Likud to wait an hour, even after coming twice," Shore said. "You have to be pretty determined to wait in line for an hour to vote. They seemed to do everything possible to discourage people from voting. "Instead of having 700 people volunteering [and] campaigning on the outside, they should have drafted them to work on the inside to make the voting go faster." Chava Horowitz, who is seven months pregnant, had to stand in line for an hour to vote at a polling station in Efrat, only to find out that the Likud had her listed at an incorrect voting district. She said that it could have been worse, because she met people who had waited for two hours and did not get to vote at all after both computers at the polling station broke down. "It's the most asinine voting system imaginable," said the Chicago-born Horowitz. "Maybe the low turnout is because the system is a turnoff." Jerusalemite Aaron Katsman, formerly of Seattle, who waited two hours to vote in Jerusalem, put a positive spin on it. "It's hard, but thank God, we have a democracy and we are able to vote, even if it's at 1 am."