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Elections in Israel: Guide – How to cast your ballot

A legal holiday in order to make it easier for citizens to vote, Election Day has become an opportunity for Israelis to spend time at the beach, hold family barbecues in national parks, and hike trails from the north to the south — as well as to vote, of course.

Most of the polling stations will open at 7 a.m., and are slated to shut their doors at 10 p.m. (some voting stations in rural communities, hospitals, and prisons open an hour later at 8 a.m.).

Voters must cast their ballot at their assigned station. If you are out of the country, you can forget about it altogether. Israelis may not vote by absentee ballot, which can be a disappointment for those among the 12 percent of eligible voters (citizens aged 18 and older) who are typically outside Israel on Election Day, and want to exercise their democratic rights.

Very few citizens are permitted to vote on Election Day at a polling station that is not their assigned one: Israel Defense Forces soldiers, medical staff and patients in hospitals, prisoners, and disabled people (3,940 polling places are accessible to people with disabilities, and blind individuals are permitted to bring one person behind the partition to help them cast their vote).

In the case of the military, which began voting on Saturday night and finishes with the rest of Israel on Tuesday, sometimes polling stations go to the soldiers instead of vice versa: some stations are set up on military bases, and others are brought out to the soldiers in the field.

Another exception is Israeli diplomats on assignment at embassies and consulates around the world. They voted on March 27, with their ballots set to be counted together with all the others from Wednesday.

The state it does provide a free bus ticket to anyone who needs to undertake inter-city travel to get to his or her assigned polling station.

The obligation to vote at the station to which you are assigned is a measure that targets voting fraud, and it is strictly enforced. If you are eligible to vote, you should have received a little card by mail from the Central Elections Committee, notifying you which booth is yours, and where it is located.

When you go to vote, you must bring with you one of the following three forms of state identification, and only these three. Other identification documents, no matter how official their source, will not be accepted:

1. An Israeli driver’s license with a photo.

2. An Israeli ID card (te’udat zehut).

3. An Israeli passport with a photo.

The method for voting is simple. The staff at the polling station will hand you an empty blue envelope. Inside the booth, you will find stacks of slips with each party’s letter-based symbol and name in Hebrew. If Hebrew is not your strong suit, familiarize yourself with your party’s symbol beforehand, or write it down and bring the note with you into the booth.

Since Israelis do not mark their ballots, what the ballot counters look for are the symbols printed on the slips of paper that voters place inside the envelopes. Each political party running for the Knesset is assigned a symbol or code, usually made up of as many as three letters.

Mem-Het-Lamed has been “owned” by the Likud for decades.

Once you have found the ticket of your preferred party, make sure it is clean (with no marks other than the printed symbol), and place it in the envelope, making sure there is only one slip in the envelope. Multiple slips, even from the same party, will disqualify your vote.

All the counting is done manually, following the closing of the polling stations.

By law, the final election results must be published within eight days of the vote, but a spokesman for the Central Elections Committee said the counting would be finished on Thursday afternoon.