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Israeli cabinet approves law to allow cameras in polling stations

What happened? The Israeli cabinet yesterday approved a bill, proposed by the Likud, to allow political party representatives to film inside polling stations.  (The proposal is to film registration and processing and not inside the voting booth itself).

  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “The integrity of elections is among the foundations of democracy. The best way to prevent fraud in the elections is to station cameras in every polling place and allow poll watchers from the rival parties to supervise each other. Reciprocal oversight of all the parties is the essence of transparency in a democracy and one of the most important foundations in upholding the rule of law.”
  • Likud’s election campaign has focused on claims that there was widespread fraud in the April election. Prime Minister Netanyahu even made a campaign video in which he said: ‘We won’t let the elections be stolen’.
  • Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attended the cabinet meeting to dissuade ministers from pursuing the bill. He provided legal advice citing procedural and substantive flaws with the proposed legislation and warned it would result in “chaos” on election day.​​​​​​​

Context

  • On 9 April, the Likud placed 1,200 monitors in Arab communities with hidden body cameras to prevent what the party claimed was rampant fraud.  Some claim the plan to install cameras this time is designed to intimidate and deter Arab citizens from voting.
  • In 2015 voter turnout by Arab voters was 63 per cent but in April 2019 it decreased to 49 per cent. In April 2019 Arab parties won 11 seats in the Knesset, down from 13 in 2015.
  • Following the election earlier this year, police launched an investigation into six polling stations. Likud made 140 complaints of voter fraud but none contained sufficient evidence for an indictment.
  • The Chief Executive of the Central Election Commission, Orly Aides, said it found evidence of fraud in only five polling stations and only two were in Arab communities. The Central Election Committee is recruiting 3,000 independent monitors to visit polling stations.
  • The Knesset’s legal adviser has warned that the new law could be unconstitutional. He told MKs that the legislation gave a very considerable advantage to one party and it gave rise to real concern that voters would be deterred from voting. He added that promoting the legislative process relating to elections one week before elections, without this enjoying a broad consensus among the parties, was unprecedented and raised many difficulties in its own right.

Looking ahead: The bill will now be brought to the Knesset this afternoon for the first of three votes before it can become law. A 61 majority will be sufficient, but the bill may not pass as Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beteinu party have said they will not support it.

  • On Tuesday, a full-day debate will be held and on Wednesday it will have its second and third reading.
  • If it is passed, it is likely that petitions will be submitted to the High Court of Justice demanding that it be overturned.
  • Even if the law fails to pass or is blocked, political commentators argue that it still serves the purpose of the Likud campaign as it gives them an opportunity to keep publicising the issue and claim they tried to deal with voter fraud but the Knesset or the courts prevented them.