The Central Elections Committee was preparing on Wednesday afternoon to begin counting some 450,000 absentee ballots, and said it hoped to conclude the tally by Friday morning.
The ballots, cast in special double envelopes, account for some 10 percent of the national vote, and could yet determine whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is able to form a new government, whether his rivals do so, or whether the political gridlock continues and Israel heads for yet another election after four inconclusive rounds.
As of 5 p.m., 97 percent of regular votes had been tallied, with the Central Elections Committee expected to add the final 3% shortly.
The double-envelope system is used for anyone voting outside a regular polling station assigned to them according to their place of residence. They are all brought to the Knesset to be counted by CEC representatives. The process takes longer than the regular count as officials cross-reference the person’s details on the outer envelope to ensure they have not also voted elsewhere. After this is completed, the anonymous inner envelopes are amassed together and the ballots within can be counted like all other votes.
Absentee ballots are usually cast by members of security forces, prisoners, diplomats and persons with mobility issues who can not reach their assigned polling station.
In the previous three elections, the number of people voting by double envelope rose from 240,000 to 280,000 to 330,000, but this year jumped significantly as it now includes isolated COVID-19 patients and those in quarantine.
With 87 percent of the vote tallied Netanyahu’s Likud would win 30 seats, Shas 9, United Torah Judaism 7, and the Religious Zionism party 6. That would give the pro-Netanyahu bloc a total of just 52 seats, still short of a majority even if Yamina were to join with its 7 seats.
On the other side of the aisle, the parties that have vowed to oppose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forming the next coalition have 56 seats. Ra’am, with five, has not made a commitment either way.
Ra’am could potentially put either side over the 61 mark, crowning the next premier, but right-wing politicians, both in the pro-Netanyahu bloc and the anti-Netanyahu bloc, have ruled out basing a coalition on the party’s support, due to what they say is an anti-Zionist stance. Some have accused Ra’am of supporting terrorists. Netanyahu called Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas an anti-Zionist last week, and said allying with Ra’am in any way was “out of the question.”