Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Love of the Land: The Great Absentee-Ballot Debate

The Great Absentee-Ballot Debate

Evelyn Gordon
09 February '10

A perennial Israeli debate erupted anew yesterday, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he supported a proposal to extend the franchise to Israelis living abroad. What makes this debate so baffling is that both sides are partly right — meaning it should be easy to strike a compromise somewhere in the middle. But in 62 years, it hasn’t happened.

The proposal put forth by Netanyahu’s largest coalition partner, Yisrael Beiteinu, would allow absentee ballots for anyone who has held a valid Israeli passport for the past 10 years — about 500,000 people. And opponents are right that this is far too broad. First, in terms of sheer numbers, that constitutes 7 percent of the total population and fully 10 percent of eligible voters — a far higher proportion than is the norm in other countries that allow absentee voting.

Moreover, many of the 500,000 people in question have been living abroad full-time for many years. Indeed, you can have a valid Israeli passport for 10 years without setting foot in the country that entire time. Thus people who are not living in Israel and whose daily lives are unaffected by the country’s policies would have a disproportionate impact on the outcome of any election.

This is particularly problematic because Israel is a country at war. Overseas residents are not the ones who will suffer daily rocket fire if a territorial pullout goes wrong, nor will their sons’ lives be at risk if the government launches a military operation. Thus it is completely inappropriate to give them a major voice in electing those who will make such decisions.

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Love of the Land: The Great Absentee-Ballot Debate

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