Making sense of the Jerusalem mayoral election

Explaining the 'two-round runoff system' and its implications for how you vote
Illustrative: Workers prepare ballot boxes for the upcoming Israeli election at a warehouse near Tel Aviv before they are shipped to polling stations, January 2013. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Illustrative: Workers prepare ballot boxes for the upcoming Israeli election at a warehouse near Tel Aviv before they are shipped to polling stations, January 2013. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

This is not a post about why you should vote for a particular candidate for mayor of Jerusalem. In fact, I don’t know who I’m voting for yet, either.

Instead, I just want to explain how the mayoral election works. Lots of people seem confused about the system, especially given the number of candidates and parties.

The Jerusalem mayoral election is a two-round runoff system.

On Tuesday, October 30, Jerusalemites will vote for the mayor. This, in standard (and wasteful) Israeli fashion, involves voting for ONE candidate by putting a slip of paper his or her name in an envelope. This year, local election day is also a day off work as long as you live in a municipality with elections, so that’s nice too.

If one of the many candidates gets more 50 percent of the vote, they win and will become mayor. In most (all?) previous elections, a mayor was elected in the first round. But because of the sheer number of candidates and polls showing several of them are strong, a 50% first-round victory seems unlikely this time unless something big changes.

If no candidate gets 50% in the first round, everyone except the top two candidates are eliminated. The top two then go through to a head-to-head second round election, to be held on Tuesday, November 13.

In the second round, there are only two candidates and whoever gets the most votes wins.

What does this mean for you as a voter? Well, it’s complicated. It means you should cast your first-round vote thinking about who you want to win, but also who you want to be in the second round.

For example, maybe there’s one person you really don’t want to win, and your main concern is to stop them. In that case, perhaps you should vote for whoever you think can beat them most easily in a head-to-head. But that’s only a good tactic if that person has a chance to make it into the second round.

On the other hand, maybe you will feel that you can vote for whoever you want in the first round and then decide between the final two in the second round.

Or maybe there are TWO candidates you hate, and so there’s an argument for voting in the first round for whoever’s most likely to beat one of them into the top two.

Of course, all of this requires you to have some sense of which candidates have any chance at all of making it into the final round. And this means looking at divergent polls, dealing with squiffy likelihood-to-vote filters (because of the vacation day), the high number of “don’t know” responses, etc. So it can still be difficult to translate your preferences into a decision on who to vote for. At the moment, most polls do suggest that three candidates are leading the race and any two of them could get into the final round — but that’s as far as I’m going to go on this point.

Oh, one other thing. At the same time as you vote for mayor on October 30, you can also vote for the Municipal Council by putting, again, one slip of paper for the list you support. Many of the mayoral candidates have their own lists for the Council, but there are also factions that don’t have their own mayoral candidate. Some (but not all) candidates for mayor are also on their party’s list, meaning they’d probably take a council seat if they lost the mayoralty.

But this isn’t the same as the mayoral election. Your vote for the Municipal Council doesn’t change who wins the mayoralty. You can vote for a party that backs the mayor of your choice, or you can vote for a party that will hold them to account.

Happy voting, and enjoy the extra day off of work!

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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