How to Vote in Israel – a First-Time Guide

A bit more than two years ago, I wrote a Times of Israel blog on how to vote in the Israeli General Election. I didn’t expect to have to rewrite the piece so soon, but here we are. Tomorrow we go to the polls again. If you’ve never voted in Israel the mechanics can be quite confusing, so here’s what you need to do to successfully vote:

1. Find out where you need to vote

If you’re lucky, you will have received a note through your door telling you where your local polling station is. This note should go to the address on your Teudat Zehut. If you haven’t got a note and don’t know where to vote, check on this website (the captcha is annoyingly case-sensitive) or call the English-language helpline on 1-800-200-135.

If you didn’t receive the card, don’t panic. The postal system isn’t great and many people don’t get them. You can still vote — just use the system above to confirm where.

If you’re not sure if you’re registered then this system will also tell you. Anyone who was a citizen before late January should be on the list. If you moved house but haven’t changed your address with the Interior Ministry before that date then you will probably still be registered at your old address and will need to vote there.


2. Go to the polling station

You need to bring a Government-issued photo ID – a Teudat Zehut, driving licence or passport. You don’t need to bring the note that told you where to vote, but it’s a bit quicker if you do so it’s recommended. The polling stations are open from 7 am until 10 pm, and as long as you’re at the polling station by 10 pm then you should be allowed to vote.


3. Actually vote

In Israel, there is no ballot paper with boxes to tick or holes to punch. Instead, you will be given an envelope which you take into the voting booth.

In the booth will be twenty-seven piles of paper. On 26 of these piles is one-to-three letter code for a political party. This dates back to when Hebrew literacy was very poor due to the large number of new olim, and voters memorised the letters for the party they wanted to vote for. You can still do this if your Ivrit isn’t good (list here), but you don’t need to – each slip of paper (petek) also has the party’s name written underneath.

Be careful in this election as there are a couple of parties you could confuse:

  • Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party sounds a bit like the Kulanu Haverim party run by the Na-Nach Breslover Hassidim.
  • The Joint Arab List, the merger between Hadash, Raam-Taal and Balad, is easy to confuse with the Arab List, a totally unconnected party

Watch out for these parties with similar letters:

  • קץ Yachad
  • זץ The (Temporary) National Team
  • נץ the Perach party
  • ףץ the NaNachs again

So make sure you’ve chosen the right ballot.

Ballot slips (image via Wikipedia, Creative Commons)

To actually vote, you choose your slip of paper and seal it in your envelope, then put the sealed envelope in a ballot box.

The twenty-seventh piece of paper is blank – the “petek lavan“. You can use this piece to write in a party’s letter code if you particularly want to, but it’s not a good idea in case your handwriting is messy or you get it wrong. If the party you want to vote for is missing, it’s better to tell the election officials so they can bring more papers.

Some people also use this petek lavan as a way of registering an abstention, putting the blank sheet in their envelope.Voting with a petek lavan doesn’t count and your vote won’t be counted. Israel also has no write-in candidates. Anything you write on the paper that isn’t a real party name will invalidate your ballot.

This is actually a really crappy system. It costs a fortune to run because the State has to print, distribute and then destroy 27 ballots per person. The ballot slips sit in the voting booths where anyone can tamper with them. It’s easy to screw up by mistake – in 2013 40,000 invalid votes were cast but not counted. But it’s the system we’ve got, so make sure your ballot isn’t one of the invalid one:

  • When you vote, make really sure that you only put one petek in your envelope, and not two stuck together. A previous voter might have tried to deliberately sabotage one party by sticking their slips together, causing you to accidentally use two and invalidating your vote.
  • The same goes for any writing, tearing or marks on the slip itself. Make sure you use a clean, unmarked petek. Do not write anything on it. Check both sides — if someone has written another party name on the back then your ballot is invalid.
  • If you’re feeling public-spirited, report any missing parties or damaged slips even if it’s not your party.

4. Wait

The results of the election will start coming in pretty quickly. Exit polls will be published after the polls close and throughout the night the vote totals will be added up. You can watch the totals fill up at By Wednesday morning we’ll have a pretty good idea about how the next Knesset will look, though votes of IDF soldiers and diplomats, which are counted last, can tweak things a little.

Once the Knesset seats are declared then the business of deals, negotiations and tradeoffs starts. It will probably be several weeks before the make-up of the government is settled.

About the Author
Arieh Kovler is a writer, political analyst and communications consultant. Before his aliya he was the Head of Policy and Research for Britain's Jewish Leadership Council and director of the Fair Play Campaign. He is a media commentator and founder of the Hat Tip.
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