Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Political Culture Shock

Municipal elections are took place across Israel today. I am used to Canadian elections under the scrutiny of Elections Canada. Voting is fair and results are available quickly. There are many steps in place to prevent voter fraud. The results are verifiable in cases where there are voting irregularities or the results are close. Such cannot be said for the Israeli electoral system.

In Canada there is no campaigning on election day. Any signs of partisanship must be kept away from the polling stations. There have been cars driving around all day with campaign signs, playing loud music and throwing garbage (campaign literature) onto the streets. Parties set up information booths across the street from polling stations in an attempt to sway last minute voters.

In Canada the polling stations are very simple and secure. The returning officer signs every ballot before giving them out. The ballot is black with white writing that includes the candidates name political party and a spot to indicate who you wish to support. Every ballot that clearly indicates who you wish to vote for and does not indicate who has no indications of who cast the ballot counts. The returning officer verifies the signature as they watch the ballot placed into the ballot box. When the ballots are being counted the returning officer must verify that they are counting the exact same number of ballots as they distributed.

In Israel voters are handed two envelopes. The yellow one is for Mayor and the white one is for the party. In the ballot box there are ballots for all of the candidates. The yellow ones have the Mayoral candidates name on them and are placed in the yellow envelope. The white ones have the party name as well as a letter designation. The white ballot is placed in the white envelope and sealed. Both envelopes are placed in the ballot box.

A ballot is spoiled if it has any markings, has been folded, two in one envelope, or altered in anyway. There are many opportunities for electoral fraud under this system. In a 3-way race one could remove ballots to make it look like a particular candidate is winning. One could remove an opponents ballots so that others are not able to vote for them. One can also tamper with another candidates ballots causing a person to unknowingly cast a spoiled ballot. Unless someone is caught red handed there is very little that can be done to undo damage caused by the fraud.

Throughout the day there have been reports of electoral fraud. There have been reports of police being called in when intimidation tactics were used to prevent some from voting. At least 3 polling stations were closed when it was discovered one candidates ballots were substituted with fake ballots where they slightly altered the candidates first name. Anyone who did not notice would have cast spoiled ballots. Some friends were locked into their voting station as police investigated tampered ballots. I saw children walking around the streets with ballots in their hands. All these incidence call into question the integrity of the final vote count.

Canadians are very lucky with the level of integrity of their electoral process that they take for granted. I sent an e-mail to Elections Canada today asking if they could teach the Israeli officails how to have a fair election.

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