In Israel, as in most other democratic countries, there are elections to both the Parliament and to the Local Councils. To make it convenient for the voter, there are a number of polling stations set up in the areas where voting takes place. In some countries, people who, because illness and other reasons, are unable to get to the polling station, are able to vote by post.
In Israel, there is no postal voting and until the 1996 elections, people who could not get to their polling station because they were in hospital would effectively be disenfranchised. However from those elections onwards, polling stations were set up in hospitals.
The 1996, the Israeli parliamentary elections took place soon after Shavuot. My mother had gone to visit her younger son who lived in Haifa and whilst she was there had a heart attack and was taken to the local hospital. At first she was an in intensive care ward but by the time of the election day she had improved.
I together with one of my daughters had gone to visit her in the hospital in Haifa. Of course she wanted to vote. The polling station in the hospital was supposed to open at nine o’clock. Just after nine o’clock, I and my daughter took my mother in a wheel chair to the polling station. As with most polling stations in Israel, they open a bit late and this one was no exception.
When it finally opened, my mother produced her identity card and a certificate from the hospital certifying that she was a patient there and she was given two envelopes for her votes – one for her vote for the political party and the other for her vote for the Prime Minister. My daughter then wheeled her behind the screen so that she could cast her votes.
My daughter and I then returned to Kiryat Arba so that we could cast our own votes.
It is plain common sense that a person should vote at the polling station which is closest to the place where the voter lives. For some unexplained reason, for a number of elections this was not the case in Kiryat Arba!
The polling stations in Kiryat Arba are usually situated in the municipal library, the state religious school, the state school and the community centre. My apartment building is right next to the municipal library, yet my polling station was at the state religious school, which is on the other side of Kiryat Arba!
In the elections to the Knesset in 1999, I volunteered to be an observer for one of the political parties. In order that I would not have to walk across Kiryat Arba in to order to cast my own vote, I asked to be an observer in the polling station at the state religious school. Similarly, in the following year’s local election, and in an election for a Prime Minister held the year after that, I had to go all the way to the state religious school to vote.
In 2003 there was another General Election. Yes – once again I had to vote at the same polling station! I was again an observer, but this time at the municipal library polling station. During the morning, I had to leave the polling station and go all the way to the state religious school to vote and then hurry back to the municipal library. Before this election, I had studied the various election laws and procedures for voting and was probably more of an authority on them than the election officials at this polling station!
I realised that the location where people cast their votes in Kiryat Arba was absurd and decided that I had to do something about it. I first spoke to an official of the local council. I received the answer that the distribution of polling locations was nothing to do with them! I also spoke to the person who was overall responsible for the administrative side of the elections in Kiryat Arba and the surrounding area, but I received the same answer from him, “I don’t arrange which polling station a person will vote in!”
It seems that the people who did do this arranging lived far away from Kiryat Arba and thus had no idea of the locations of the apartments in Kiryat Arba relative to the location of the polling stations. Surely the sensible thing would be that there should be contact between the local council and those arranging the polling stations. The local council who had maps of all the building in Kiryat Arba could then have easily sent a copy of them to those arranging the polling stations.
In the local elections of 2004, my polling station was not in the state religious school. No, it was not in the municipal library! It was in the pedagogic center which was just as far, if not even further, from my apartment. The reason was that since it was a local election, it was preferred not to close the schools that day and so the pedagogic center was chosen as the location.
After walking all the distance to the polling station and then back home, (maybe the walk was good for my health!), I decided to start using my pen (or should I say computer) to try and remedy the situation.
That very I day I wrote a letter to the Elections Department of the Ministry of the Interior:
“My family and I live in building 306, Yehoshua bin Nun Street, Kiryat Arba.
“Although the location of the building is adjacent to the library, which serves as one of the polling stations for elections, we had to go to a polling station at the Pedagogic Center which is about a ten minute walk from building 306 in order to be able to vote today in the Local Council elections. It should be stated that this is not the first time that those who live in this building are not voting in the library.
“I ask that you make sure that in future elections we will vote in a location close to our apartment, namely the library.”
Copies of this letter were sent to the Minister of the Interior, to the Head and to the Secretary of the Kiryat Arba Local Council.
I have no record of a reply to this letter of mine.
A general election was scheduled for the end of March 2006 and I hoped that on this occasion I would be able to vote in the municipal library. I therefore on 22 January 2006, wrote a letter to the Central Elections Committee. I began by referring to my previous letter written in November 2004. The content of my letter was similar to that of my previous letter but concluded by hoping that in the forthcoming general election I would be able to vote at the municipal library.
Just under two weeks later I received a reply to my letter. They began by saying that my previous letter did not reach the regional election committee, since by that time that had finished their work! So what happened to letters of complaint sent to them? Were they just thrown into the garbage?!
They enclosed a list from the Ministry of the Interior of polling stations in Kiryat Arba, - (since this list included the pedagogic center and not the schools, it was obviously the list for the local elections), admitting that they did not know the geography of Kiryat Arba. Furthermore, their list contained contradictions and inaccuracies. For example, in one place it stated that people living in buildings numbered 17 to 399 vote in the pedagogic center and in another place in the very same list it stated that people living in buildings 17 to 99 vote in the municipal library. So where then does a person living in (say) building 25 vote?! Maybe he has two votes – one in each polling station!!
I was informed that I would in the forthcoming general election vote once again at the state religious school.
The letter concluded, “In order to avoid inconvenience in future elections. I should ensure that on my Identity Card should appear my updated address, name of street and number of the apartment (and not [just] the number of the building – 306), so that the Central Bureau of Statistics will know how to assign you an appropriate polling station.”
This last paragraph of their letter is very nice, except that my identity card clearly gives the name of the street I live in as well as the building number and the apartment number. This fact I wrote in my reply which I sent them immediately, stating that my full address appeared on my identity card for many years and what is more that on the card for the voter, which they themselves send every voter before every election, my full address appeared. I even enclosed photocopies of these two documents.
In this letter I also reminded them that in my letter written in November 2004, I had apprised them of the situation and thus the Central Bureau of Statistics had had “more than a year to correct the situation”. (emphasis in original)
I concluded with the wish “that they would immediately deal with the situation and in the forthcoming election to the Knesset, my family would be able to vote in the municipal library situated next to my apartment.”
I sent copies of this letter to various officials including the judge who was the Chairman of the Central Elections Committee.
They replied that they had checked out the matter and admitted that I was right, but regretfully also admitted that they could make no change for the forthcoming general election.
However, the correction was made and in elections from 2008 onwards, the location of the polling station for my building and the other buildings in the area was the municipal library. If one complains, one sometimes succeeds!