High Turnout As Polls Close In Beit Shemesh


abutbol-bet-shemeshBy the time the polls closed at 10 p.m. tonight, some 76 percent of eligible voters in Beit Shemesh and 83.6% of eligible Nazareth residents had exercised their right to cast votes for mayor for a second time, after claims of fraud overturned the results of last year’s elections.

The turnout today greatly exceeded the turnout during the original mayoral elections on October 22, 2013 – by some 7% in Beit Shemesh, and 13% in Nazareth.

The decision to call new elections in Beit Shemesh was reached by the Jerusalem District Court in December came after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and secular mayoral candidate Eli Cohen, who lost to incumbent Mayor Moshe Abutbul of the Shas party by a narrow margin in October’s election, appealed the results over allegations of widespread fraud.

Police had discovered hundreds of identity cards in an apartment and car believed to belong to Abutbul supporters, as well as a cache of clothing that apparently served to disguise individuals who voted multiple times on election day. Investigators suspected that Shaya Brand, an associate of Abutbul, had organized a plan to identify nonvoters and pay them for their identity cards, so that Abutbul supporters could use them to cast fraudulent ballots.

Shas has maintained that Abutbul’s victory was legitimate, claiming the judges had been swayed by a media smear campaign.

In Nazareth, Attorney General Weinstein said a post-election investigation, conducted jointly by the Interior Ministry, Prisons Service and Justice Ministry, revealed that at least 11 ballots were cast in November’s municipal election by individuals who were either under arrest or out of the country and thus could not have voted.

The Times of Israel