State, Abutbul, Cohen file final pleadings on Beit Shemesh election fraud

AG Weinstein and mayoral challenge Cohen appeal election results in which Abutbul won by a mere 956 votes.

Beit Shemesh mayor candidate Eli Cohen 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Beit Shemesh mayor candidate Eli Cohen 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The state, Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul and his mayoral challenger Eli Cohen on Wednesday all filed their final legal pleadings with the Jerusalem District Court in a case which will determine whether October’s election results stand or whether the court orders an unprecedented new vote due to allegations of massive fraud.
A decision is expected imminently.
On December 10, the state suffered potential setbacks in its appeal to overturn the recent Beit Shemesh mayoral election, when the three-judge panel of the Jerusalem District Court issued an interim order.
The appeal pits Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein and Cohen against Abutbul and members of the city council affiliated with him, in a battle over whether Beit Shemesh should hold a new election.
While the state and Cohen may still win the appeal, the setbacks have included the court ordering the state to give the exact number of proven fraudulent votes that the state would consider a threshold for mandating overturning the election.
Abutbul won the race by a razor-thin margin of 956 votes.
The court also issued an order to give Abutbul’s side secret evidence the state had held back, within 48 hours.
The court demanded that the state provide its response regarding the fraudulent-vote threshold by midday on Wednesday, and suggested it might render a decision late Wednesday evening.
The interim decision constituted a potential setback because the state and Cohen’s lawyer had tried to convince the court that exact number of fraudulent votes was less important than the fact that unprecedented allegations of widespread, coordinated and systematic fraud had led to the appeal, according to Weinstein.
The state’s argument has been that because the hearing was on an administrative issue, not a criminal one, it did not need to meet as high a level of proof.
It has implied that the significant arrests and stories suggesting that at least several hundred votes were fraudulent endangered the faith of Beit Shemesh residents enough that their democratic rights were being trampled and that a new election should be ordered.
Pressed by the court several times about whether the number of fraudulent votes was high enough mathematically to overturn the election, the state said that it believed it was.
However, the state stressed that regardless of the math, the widespread nature of the fraud and the importance of shoring up the voters’ faith that their democratic voting rights were not being abused were in and of themselves enough.
In the written appeal, Weinstein said that the “severe deficiencies” in the election, in light of Abutbul’s extremely close margin of victory, made it clear that the plan had been to affect the outcome.
He noted that even before the current, deeper investigation, 828 votes had been disqualified in the initial electoral count as problematic, showing that the volume of the fraud was considerable.
In his appeal to the court, Weinstein mentioned two police busts of centers for voter fraud. One center had been producing at least 62 fraudulent voter registrations (based on the number of identity cards recovered), and the other had been producing 99, of which 36 identity cards had already been used to cast fraudulent votes.
One suspected central player in the fraud said that he knew of a “target” goal of paying between 1,000 and 1,700 “enthusiasts” to vote in favor of Abutbul and his party’s slate, said Weinstein.
Another suspect recalled overhearing that another participant in the fraud possessed a bag holding 500 identity cards for illegal voting, Weinstein continued.
Cohen’s lawyer concurred with the state, but took an even more aggressive stance, stating that “math does not capture by itself the fraud committed and the damage to democracy in Beit Shemesh.”
He added that on election day, there had been intimidation and “terror in the streets against supporters of Cohen.”
In response, the court again pushed back, asking Cohen to focus on concrete numbers of votes that, if invalidated, would be sufficient to overturn the election result.
Attorney Jacob Weinroth, representing Abutbul, thundered away at the state and Cohen, saying that “this case is about evidence, not intuition.”
Weinroth declared that “there is no real evidence in this case,” calling the state’s evidence “hearsay” and satirizing the evidence as a string of rumors and conversations between several people that could not prove anything in a courtroom.
He slammed the state for allegedly “concealing” evidence, as though “this [were] a detention proceeding,” implying that the state was treating Abutbul like a security detainee.
Weinroth quoted case law that he said proved that the court must judge the evidence in the case according to the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard used in criminal cases.
Further, he rejected what he called “insinuations” of wrongdoing (without formal accusations) against Abutbul individually.
In his appeal, Weinstein had said the police had found paraphernalia at least ideologically linking the fraud operations with assisting Abutbul’s campaign and his party’s slate for city council.
Moreover, the attorney-general said one of Abutbul’s campaign advisers had received text messages indicating his likely knowledge and involvement in the scheme.
The state’s final pleading appended an affidavit from Irit Ram, a top official in the Interior Ministry dealing with the municipal elections. The statement indicated the lowest numbers of votes that would need to be disqualified in order to alter the election.
Scenarios discussed in the statement mentioned a 50-vote difference, a 650-vote difference and a 1,398-vote difference for affecting the overall constellation of the parties on the Beit Shemesh City Council.
The statement did not discuss the number of votes for altering the mayoral election, as that was already established at 956.
Cohen’s spokesman stuck to Cohen’s position that the exact numbers were so far from what they would have been in a fair election, since the fraud and intimidation by Abutbul’s supporters were so widespread, that the current voting numbers were completely distorted and irrelevant.