Get out and vote

 A voting box in the last Israeli election in 2015 (photo credit: REUTERS)
A voting box in the last Israeli election in 2015
(photo credit: REUTERS)
At an event for English-speaking immigrants in Jerusalem last week, mayoral candidate Ofer Berkovitch was told by a woman in the audience that she was debating whether to vote for him or to put a blank slip in the envelope on Election Day next Tuesday. In response, Berkovitch said it was her civic duty to vote, and although he wanted her ballot, she should vote for any candidate rather than opting out with a blank slip.
We agree. For the first time in Israel’s history, October 30 – the day of municipal elections – will be a legal public holiday, when it is every eligible voter’s duty to go out and vote. Even if they don’t vote for a candidate they fully support, they should vote for the one most likely to be the best mayor; a candidate who does not appear to be corrupt, has integrity and cares about his or her constituents.
According to the Union of Local Authorities in Israel and the Interior Ministry, some 6.6 million Israeli citizens and foreign residents above the age of 17 are eligible to vote in local elections. Voters should cast two ballots, one for mayor and the second for a party list. If no mayoral candidate receives 40% of the vote, a runoff between the two front runners will take place on November 13, and the winner will be crowned mayor.
The elections will be held this year in all 54 regional councils, 122 (out of 124) local councils and 75 (out of 77) municipalities. In the past, local elections in Israel were held in conjunction with national elections. But in 1975, the municipal electoral system underwent major reform, and local elections are now held every five years, separately from national elections. In 1978, the new system – in which municipal voters cast a double ballot for both a mayoral candidate and for a party list on their town or city council – was implemented for the first time.
According to a new survey by the Israel Democracy Institute, 83% of Jewish Israelis and 71% of Muslim and Christian Israelis plan to vote in the October 30 elections. The poll, conducted on October 16-17 of a representative sample of 600 respondents (with a 4.1% margin of error) also found that only 17% of both Jewish and Arab Israelis believe that in the municipality in which they reside, there is no corruption at all. That’s not a good sign.
According to Amotz Asa-El, writing in The Jerusalem Report, “regional councils are embroiled in dozens of personal contests underpinned by multiple policy dilemmas and marred by corruption scandals.” Among the four big cities in Israel, Asa-El says, two campaigns are expected to be cakewalks for the incumbent mayors – Beersheba’s Ruvik Danilovich and Haifa’s Yona Yahav. In Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the races are tighter and more interesting.
In Tel Aviv, veteran mayor Ron Huldai, 74, is facing his first real challenge after 20 years from his younger deputy, Asaf Zamir, 38 – and there is, for the first time, an immigrant party named Olim Beyachad (Immigrants Together) TLV.
The race in Israel’s capital is similarly exciting, with four strong contenders for mayor and 19 party lists. The four front runners are city councilman Moshe Lion (Our Jerusalem), Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), Deputy Mayor Yossi Deitch (Agudat Yisrael) and Berkovitch (Hitorerut), who at 35 is the youngest candidate in the race.
Municipal elections are democracy’s most intensely personal institution. The issues at hand affect every facet of our daily lives, from education and parking to the environment and local services. Much more so than national elections, in smaller municipalities every vote counts in determining the makeup of local councils which will then determine the quality of life their constituents will enjoy for the coming years.
Whatever you decide, do your best to obtain a ballot paper if you haven’t already received it in the mail, and go to your local polling station next Tuesday to vote. As American author Louis L’Amour once wrote, “To make democracy work, we must be a nation of participants, not simply observers. One who does not vote has no right to complain.”