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We still have the power to change things

From the Passover holiday to COVID-19 and political burnout, low voter turnout could turn out to be the wild card in Israel’s elections.

An Israeli soldier casts an early vote on an army base near the Arab town of Kafr Qara on March 17, 2021, five days before the general election on March 23. Photo by Flash90.
An Israeli soldier casts an early vote on an army base near the Arab town of Kafr Qara on March 17, 2021, five days before the general election on March 23. Photo by Flash90.
Nadav Shragai
Nadav Shragai
Nadav Shragai is a veteran Israeli journalist.

It’s not only those who vote that influence things—it’s also those who don’t. For the worse. Any Israeli who intends to stay home on Tuesday, who despairs and thinks that there’s no point, that nothing will change, should think again. The unknown quantity of Tuesday’s election is voter turnout. This one factor could decide the election. Low voter turnout could not only lead to over- or under-representation of certain sectors and parties, but could also have a dramatic effect on the makeup of the government and the identity of the next prime minister.

In this election, there is a particularly high risk of low voter turnout. The country’s fourth election in under two years finds the public tired of the political chain collision it has been a part of in that time. Many—from all camps—are sick of the filth, the mudslinging, the spins and the lies that the parties, campaigns and candidates have been flinging at each other. On the left, there is a sense of despair and a belief that everything is stalled, with little chance of removing Prime Minister Netanyahu from power. On the right, a dangerous mix of apathy and arrogance has emerged that could bring down the Likud in its traditional stronghold cities.

The fact that this contest, unlike the previous ones, is not a fight between two leading candidates, also hurts motivation to vote and contributes to the comparative disenchantment. Thanks to the split in the Joint List, voter turnout in the Arab sector is also expected to drop.

Polls are predicting voter turnout to tumble from about 65 percent to below 57 percent on Tuesday. Even the Haredi public, which usually flocks to the polls en masse, could see a relatively low turnout for a completely prosaic reason: The election is being held three days before Passover, a time usually devoted to shopping, cleaning and preparations for seder night and the rest of the holiday.

And in addition to all this, we also have COVID-19. Countries that have held elections during the pandemic have seen voter turnout drop by 7 percent to 14 percent. In Israel, however, the spread is being checked and things are slowly returning to normal—but there is no way of knowing how many people will stay home out of fear of contracting the virus. Then there are the tens of thousands of COVID carriers and people in quarantine, as well as hundreds of thousands of unemployed.

If all sectors see a proportional decline in voter turnout, then there should be little effect on the election result. However, if voter turnout is lopsided, not only will every vote count, but so will every vote that isn’t cast.

So don’t stay home. Get out and vote. Put aside your despair and your lack of faith. Take your fate in your hands and shape it actively. Don’t allow the non-voters to determine the results of the election. Democracy means rule by the people. Politics is a cynical place, and often a dirty one. Let us the voters, at least, maintain a modicum of innocence and faith that we have the ability to make a difference.

Nadav Shragai is a veteran Israeli journalist.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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