Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Primal Primary Experience

A Primal Primary Experience
Rabbi Dr. Ilana Rosansky

OMG! Where do I begin? I never cease to be shocked and surprised at some of the “ineptness” I experience again and again.  And I never cease to be amazed at my continued naïveté. You’d think that by now I would have become immune to the insanity that abounds. But, oh no! Still shocked and dismayed. Again and again.

Ever the idealist (and adventuresome in spirit), I attended a meeting some months ago hosted by the Shdulah ha Pluralistitהפלורליסטית השדולה, a lobbying group supporting religious pluralism in Israel ( Their intent is to involve more people  — especially (though not exclusively) new/old immigrants who have never gotten involved in the Israeli political system before, and get them to ‘get involved’.

Specifically, their message was to join a party (any party) – any party that has a primary election. Their argument was a well-reasoned one. In the general elections, the voter is one vote among hundreds of thousands (millions?), while in the primary elections one’s vote counts (percentage-wise) much more. And the goal of the shdulah was to vote for candidates who would support religious pluralism (a worthy cause in my book). In today’s Likud primary, there were reported to be approximately 123,001 eligible voters. I was that one!  The idea of registering for a party struck me, last spring, as novel. I had never registered for any party in Israel before.  I did not know anyone who ever had joined an Israeli party either. And the idea was to vote for Knesset candidates who would be open and sensitive to the issue of religious pluralism – among other things.  And I thought it would be interesting to see how the process works.

The other two major parties that have primaries, we were told, were Labor and Kadimah. As it turns out, one would have had to be a member of those parties for 6 or so months before their primaries, in order to be eligible to vote. And they had a primary in the summer and some people who also registered to vote were, unfortunately, not yet eligible to vote in the primaries.

Another point to mention here is that in the general elections I do not have to vote for the party I have registered for. That is, for 40 shekels I could join a party, and try to influence who will be on the ‘ticket’ for the Likud, but in the end, I can vote for Labor or haBayit haYehudi or whatever new party comes along in the next week or so before the deadline — if I so desire. So, it seemed like a pretty good idea, to get involved with the “system”.

But OY!! For weeks now, the primary candidates have been sending me hundreds of SMSs! I began to think there was something wrong with my cell-phone battery the other day, as it was completely depleted before the end of the day. But, although that is still a distinct possibility, I will now have to wait until after these primaries in order to ascertain if I need a new battery or if all these incoming SMS messages are the cause of my depleted battery. Today alone, I have deleted over 25 messages from candidates seeking my vote! Five new messages came in while I have been writing the above paragraphs! Ridiculous! Absurd! One candidate’s message (which came in twice today) doesn’t list his/her ‘number’ on the ballot, but rather says “Fire Dept.” (in English)! What is that all about? Would you be inclined to vote for a candidate that sent an SMS entitled “Fire Dept.”?

But that is just an annoyance and the tip of the iceberg…

So, after work today, I went today to where I could vote in the Likud primaries. I wasn’t precisely sure where the voting place was in Ra’anana, and the radio ads made it clear that this year “everything is computerized so you could vote from any of the nationwide voting places.” Still, I checked on Google Maps for the address of the place, located the strip mall and set out to have a first-hand experience, not knowing what to expect.

On the way, I heard on the radio that the Likud primaries had been experiencing some “technical difficulties”. They were having some computer problems. So I began to wonder what would be. I had heard about long lines, Likud discussions about extending the elections, cancelling these elections and re-running them later in the week and so on. This is not what you expect from the primary elections of Israel’s largest party.

I found the place and had to negotiate a long line of tables of volunteers – young and old – promoting their candidates with stickers, brochures, etc… I made my way into the building and up the stairs to stand in line. It wasn’t moving very fast, to be sure and the people in line were kibbitzing with each other and with a local journalist who wanted to know whom people were voting for. One man verified that he had come earlier in the day and that the computer system was ‘down’ and so he had had to return. He was in pretty good humor for someone who had to stand in line twice today!

There were printed pages, on a table next to the line, that looked like ballots. They had the candidates’ names, numbers and a little box you could put an ‘x’ in. Silly me! I thought these were the ballots and began filling in my 6 or 8 real choices. Now, I thought that if you were allowed to vote for 12 candidates at the national level and one from your local regional area, that if I wanted to have my preferred candidates carry more weight, I should vote for my 6 or 8 real choices.

As it got closer to my turn I could see into the voting room. There were 4 tables set up with three or four people (election volunteers) and behind each table there were two cardboard ‘booths’ with laptop computers in them. As I came to the head of the line I was asked to show my ID card. Then, when I was directed to an available voting station in the room, I had to present my ID card again.

In the line, the young woman in front of me was turned away after presenting her ID card. The official told her he could not find her name on the list. She was nonplussed. He said that perhaps she hadn’t paid her membership dues… I was directed to one of the inside tables. There they checked my ID card and entered me into their computer. And then, I asked what I needed to know in order to vote. “You must vote for 12 candidates, or your vote won’t be tabulated”, I was told. I was dumbfounded. And given they were in good spirits and joking a bit I had to re-ask. “Are you serious? I have to vote for 12?” I was reassured that that was the only way I could vote. They insisted that I had to vote for 12 national candidates and one regional candidate. I was still dumfounded.

So I went onto the computer in my little booth; the program worked with ‘touch’ (like a bank machine). I selected my candidates and a few others I hadn’t really wanted to vote for. The computer wasn’t all that responsive. I couldn’t always get the ‘continue’ button to respond. One of the volunteers came back to where I was to assist me, and she hit the ‘continue’ button and it worked for her. So I selected 12 national candidates, hit the ‘continue’ button to move on to the regional candidate list and nothing happened. The computer went dead. 

So I called out to the good election volunteers at the table in front of my booth and someone came to check. They told me to wait while they tried to verify that at least my national choices had been recorded in the computer. After a while, they said that I could not re-vote but that my national vote had, indeed, been recorded, but now I could not vote for the regional candidate. It was a strange feeling. I don’t know if my vote really was recorded. I have no proof other than their assurance.  Anti-climactic…

Since beginning my account here, I have received another SMS — this time from the Likud party itself. They apparently have decided to extend the election hours until midnight tonight due to the technical difficulties, rather than invalidating the day’s primaries.  I’m of two minds. I don’t want to have to go back and vote again. Indeed, I might not have the time to do so later in the week. On the other hand, as the current Minister of Education, Gidon Saar was quoted on the radio as saying: “these primaries are a farce.”

Four more SMSs...  And I, I never cease to be amazed at my own continued naïveté.  SIGH