Why do voters stay home?

Researchers say holding municipal and national elections on the same day would boost turnout

Jerusalem municipal election 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Jerusalem municipal election 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Voter turnout was remarkably low in Tuesday’s nationwide municipal elections in comparison to 2008. But this year’s results follow an overall decrease in turnout in municipal voting over the past three decades.
According to researchers at the Israel Democracy Institute’s Political Reform Project, Assaf Shapira and Dr. Nir Atmor, this decline is largely a result of two changes: Separation of municipal elections from national elections, and Election Day not being a holiday.
Atmor said that before 1978, when national and municipal elections were on the same day, voter turnout for local elections was approximately 80 percent.
In an article titled On the decline in voter participation in municipal elections in Israel, Shapira wrote that “local governments in Israel are also seen as dealing with ‘trivial,’ day-to-day matters that pale in comparison to issues that the Knesset and government deal with, which include foreign affairs, matters of national security, and economic issues.”
Atmor cited low voter turnout in Tel Aviv as a result of Election Day not being a holiday, as approximately 10% of the voters registered in Tel Aviv live elsewhere.
“In order to vote, they have to drive,” Atmor said. “People need to work.”
But Atmor said voter turnouts are generally much higher in Arab and ultra- Orthodox cities because leaders urge their communities to vote.
Shapira also said, “this decline is part of a general decline in political participation in Israel and trust in politics and politicians.” Yet both Shapira and Atmor think Israel can improve its voter turnout in future local elections.
Shapira said holding municipal elections on the same day as national elections will improve voter participation.
He also recommended reforming local government by increasing power of local authorities.
Atmor suggested Israel adopt absentee voting. He proposed voting through mail as seen in the United States or even through text messaging like in London.
But Atmor indicated low voter turnout is not a unique phenomenon to Israel and said that “local elections in Europe and other countries are also much lower than in national elections.”