Sheetrit to make last-minute call to vote

Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit is to hold a press conference at 8:30 p.m. to urge all citizens and residents of Israel above age 17 to take advantage of the last hour-and-a-half before the polls close and vote in the local authority elections. Sheetrit said earlier this week that he was concerned with the low voter turnout in the local elections over the past 30 years, and would call on those who have not yet voted to do so if he sees that the figures today are low. "I call on every person who has the right to vote to go out and cast his ballot," he told reporters earlier this week. "I say to the public: Please, fulfill your duty as a citizen. Go to the polls. It doesn't take long to vote. "Vote for and elect those you believe are the best suited to run the municipality. The higher the voter turnout, the better the results will be and they will reflect the will of the electorate. When more than half the voters do not go to the polls, it is obvious that the results will be very distorted." A total of 4,847,280 citizens and residents are eligible to vote in Tuesday's election. They will elect the heads of 159 local authorities in 7,773 voting stations throughout the country. Although local election day is not a national holiday, many schools and other public buildings will be used as voting stations. A total of 639 candidates are vying to serve as mayors or local authority chairmen. In addition, there are 1,597 slates of candidates for the municipal and local councils. One of the most hotly contested elections is in Jerusalem, where secular candidate Nir Barkat is battling veteran haredi politician MK Meir Porush of United Torah Judaism. In Tel Aviv, incumbent mayor Ron Huldai is contending against Hadash MK Dov Henin, a member of the Communist Party, who heads a local list. On Monday, the Interior Ministry was busy setting up a special headquarters at the Jerusalem International Convention Center that will keep track of voter turnout throughout the day and announce the official results throughout the night and into the early morning hours. The headquarters will be run by Sassi Katzir, local elections supervisor, while civil servants from the Interior and other ministries will serve as heads of each local polling station. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. According to Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad, the election will cost a total of NIS 30 million. Sheetrit hopes to buck a trend that has characterized all local elections since 1978, when voter turnout suddenly dropped. Until 1969, the voter turnout in local elections hovered around the 80% mark. In 1973, it fell to 73%. In 1978, voter turnout was 57.3% and it has remained in that range ever since.