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Israel goes to the polls, will Netanyahu survive?

Israel is at the polls for a historic fourth time in just two years today capping what many hope is the end to a tumultuous political era.

The Middle East’s only democracy has been engulfed in a political stalemate since 2018. In Israel, voters don’t vote for the country’s leader – the Prime Minister – but for a party. The head of the party with the most votes then becomes leader of the country if they can get to 61 votes in the country’s legislature, the Knesset. If they fall short of the required number of votes, the leading party must then form a coalition with another party to get to the magic number. No party has ever won a 61-seat majority on its own, parties must partner together to form government coalitions but the system allows minor parties to have a greater voice in governmental affairs.

Opinion polls forecast an extremely tight race, raising the potential for a continued political deadlock and unprecedented fifth consecutive election. However, if the polls are accurate, they give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party a clearer path to form a government than his rivals on the left and right.

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Exit polls will be released at 10 p.m. Tuesday Israel time, 3:30 p.m. Central in the United States. However, results will likely take days, largely because of Israel’s so-called double envelope ballots. Double envelope ballots, which are absentee ballots cast anywhere outside of one’s assigned voting stations, are not counted at voting sites. Instead, they are taken to Israel’s Knesset to be counted after the regular ballots are tallied.

Usually, only special voters like soldiers, diplomats abroad, disabled people, prisoners, and hospital staff are allowed to use double envelope ballots. But because of the coronavirus outbreak, those double envelope ballots now include those sick with COVID-19, those in quarantine, and nursing home residents.

According to Ynet news, the number of double envelope ballots is expected to increase from 330,000 in the last election, to 500,000 to 600,000 today. That is the equivalent of 15 seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament.

The increase in absentee ballots is expected to blur exit polls and could bring confusion over which parties will actually enter Israel’s parliament.

The head of the Central Elections Committee warned Monday that election results will likely be unknown for days and this delay could be exploited by those who seek to discredit the results of the election.

“It can certainly be a fertile ground for disseminating all kinds of information detached from reality,” CEC director Orly Adas told Radio 103 FM.

Adas asked Israelis to “be smart enough” not to believe “rumors and conspiracy theories” as the count continues.

This latest election follows the failure of a power-sharing government between the rival Likud and the Blue and White parties. This government collapsed because the two parties could not agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline.

–Wire services and Metro Voice