Thursday, February 11, 2010

Absentee Voting In Israel

First, a few disclaimers. I am a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. I vote in US elections (as a "Special Federal Voter" - ain't that a cool title?) despite the fact that I haven't lived there in over twenty years. I might move to the States temporarily for a few years, but I plan to return to Israel after that.

Alright, what was all that about? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have proposed to allow Israelis living abroad to vote in Knesset elections. Not all citizens living abroad will be allowed to vote. The exact formula hasn't been finalized yet: Lieberman's proposal says that anyone who has had an Israeli passport for at least 10 years will be eligible to vote absentee, while the Likud proposes that this right will be given to citizens who left Israel less than six years before the election, and spent no less than 40 days in the country during that period. It should be noted that currently, every citizen may vote as long as he's in Israel on election day, regardless of whether or not he lives in Israel.

I don't like the current proposals. Lieberman's proposal is too broad and is simply meant to reduce the percentage of Arab voters. Someone who spent very little time in Israel can vote absentee ten years after becoming a citizen, even if he left the day he got his Israeli citizenship. Netanyahu's proposal is also ridiculous. If I understand it correctly, 40 days in Israel are enough to restart the six-year countdown.

People who have permanently left Israel should not be allowed to vote by absentee ballot. They have no moral right to do so. They will not have to live with the consequences of their vote. What's the difference between Israel and the US, you ask? Not much difference. As someone who does not live in the States, I don't have a moral right to vote in US elections. I have a legal right, which I implement. If Israelis who left the country years ago are allowed to vote, I won't blame those who take advantage of this right. I'll blame the lawmakers who gave it to them.

But there still is a difference between Israel and the United States - the proportion of Americans abroad is miniscule. The proportion of Israelis abroad is quite large. I don't have much impact on US elections, except for cases of very close elections. With the large number of Israelis living abroad and the proportional representation system, absentee voters will have a huge impact on elections, even when one party or bloc has a clear lead.

Israelis who are abroad temporarily - one week, one month, or even a few years while studying or working - should be allowed to vote. The best way to differentiate between those who have left the country for good and those who are abroad temporarily is to set a real limit: let's say that someone must have lived in Israel for at least four out of the last eight years in order to qualify for an absentee ballot.

It seems like Labor and Shas are going to kill absentee voting. Too bad. While I'm glad what Lieberman and Netanyahu are proposing won't become law, I'm sorry no solutions for the temporary absentees will be reached.

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