Monday, January 30, 2012

The Likud Primary and Shalom Aleichem’s Silverware

By Tuvia Brodie

It has been said that the Yiddish writer Shalom Aleichem (born Shalom Rabinowitz, 1859-1916) once wrote that a Jew should always welcome a stranger into his home—but that he should also count his silverware after the stranger has departed. We might wish to take such wise advice today, especially when a candidate—Moshe Feiglin-- runs in a major primary election against a powerful incumbent –Benjamin Netanyahu—when that incumbent has already been quoted as exhorting his campaign organizers to make sure Mr. Feiglin gets less than twenty per cent of the vote (see Gil Ronen, Likud showdown looms: Feiglin rallies Yesha support, Arutz Sheva, January 12, 2012). Heaven Forbid anyone should think that an incumbent Israeli politician might pressure someone to commit questionable deeds on his behalf during or after an election vote. We will always assume that everyone who touches a ballot in this week’s Likud primary will naturally act honourably. We expect nothing less from Likud members. We believe in Likud. We favour Likud. We trust Likud.

But of course, we also trust Shalom Aleichem. Who can read his tales of Jewish peasantry and poverty and fail to be touched? Who does not respond to his wisdom and humor? So as we honor Likud while she prepares to vote for her next leader, let us also honour Shalom Aleichem by counting ‘silverware’ or, to use a more modern expression—monitor the voting process.

Everyone knows about counting silverware after a guest leaves. It’s simple. It’s easy. It can be done in the privacy of your own dining room. Monitoring an election is similar, except it isn’t so private. Manhigut Yehudit would be wise to be wise. Why leave hungry children in a candy store alone, unmonitored?

The monitoring process is not difficult. It requires that several volunteers deploy to each voting station, to watch for irregularities. Their goal would be to record and report the time and place of any irregularity, along with the names of those involved—and then make necessary phone calls to assure that all voting-place irregularities are corrected as soon as possible. They would be present at the opening of their assigned polling station to witness station preparations. Then they would remain throughout the voting schedule to observe the vote cast, the handling of ballots and ballot boxes, and the behaviour of station personnel.

Because monitors would take their positions before voting stations open, they will (in theory) be able to identify quickly—before voters show up--if a polling station has unexpectedly been moved from its announced location without prior public notification. In this way, monitors can help make certain that voters are not disenfranchised by decisions that essentially ‘hide’ a local voting station.

There have been whispers that last-minute voting place changes might have happened in Likud’s last primary. As a consequence, some votes possibly favouring one candidate might not have been cast, to the advantage of the other candidate. Since that might have annoyed the losing candidate, monitors this year would simply help Likud avoid such an occurrence two times in a row.

During the voting process, poll observers would make certain that voters can vote without restriction or harassment. After all, voters should not feel discriminated against or unreasonably prohibited from voting. Voters should expect that the voting station they are to travel to in order to vote will be reasonably close and accessible without unnecessary challenge or difficulty. Observers would validate that voting is open, accommodative, comfortable, secret and free.

As voting unfolds, monitors can watch to see that the voting process is run efficiently and fairly for all voters. Observers can record whether or not voting-place officials behave credibly and appropriately towards all voters, and remain impartial and helpful to all voters. Observers can also record and report any behaviour of polling-place officials that favours a particular candidate or suggests partisan advantage for one candidate over the other.

Finally, as ballot boxes are moved and then transported to counting places, monitors would follow behind, to track the ballot journey from voting booth to its final destination—the vote-counting. Manhigut Yehudit would be wise to request the presence of observers at that counting process—if such observers are not already part of it.

Naturally, the purpose of such monitoring is not punitive. It is not political. It is not intended to suggest foul play or fraud. Its purpose is to establish a verifiable transparency that will prompt the public to feel confident that all procedures have been followed properly. Both sides benefit from such transparency.

Besides, Shalom Aleichem has a point: nothing is better at proving people are honest than counting your silverware—or your votes.

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