Daily Israel Report

Counting Votes: Why Small Parties are Worried

How Israel counts its votes, and why small parties fear high turnout will leave them outside Knesset.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 1/22/2013, 9:58 PM

Counting votes (archive)
Counting votes (archive)
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Small parties worried Tuesday as voter turnout remained high into the evening. Israel’s slightly complex system of voting means that the higher the number of total votes, the smaller their chances are of entering Knesset.

Many of the 34 parties running for Knesset will be disqualified in the first round. All valid votes are counted, and any party that received less than 2 percent of the total is out.

Invalid votes are those in which no slip of paper is included in the voting envelope or the paper is blank, or two votes for two different parties are present in the same envelope, or three or more votes for the same party are in one envelope. If two slips for the same party are in one envelope, they are counted as a single vote for that party.

In the second round of counting, the total number of votes given to the parties that remain is divided by 120. The resulting number, dubbed “the gauge,” is used to divvy up seats among the parties. However, the votes earned by each party do not usually divide evenly by the gauge; for example, if the gauge is 10,000 votes, a party with 45,000 would earn four seats and would be left with 5,000 extra votes.

In the third round, the rest of the mandates are divided according to the Hagenbach-Bischoff system, which in Israel is termed the Bader-Ofer law. The total number of votes earned by each party is divided by the number of seats it has been allocated, and the party with the highest number earns an additional seat. The calculation is done repeatedly until all 120 seats have been distributed, with the seats each party is given through the system being calculated as part of its total in subsequent rounds.

The system gives a clear advantage to larger parties, which can end up receiving 3-4 additional seats while smaller parties earn just one or two.

Many parties make agreements before the election regarding the division of “extra” votes. Two parties will agree that if both have votes left over after they are given seats in the second round, whichever of the two has more leftover votes will be given the extra votes given to both of the parties, thus helping it win an additional seat.

Parties that have entered into such agreements are treated as one party in round three of the calculations. The distribution of seats between the two is then calculated in the fourth and final round. Like round three, round four relies on the Hagenbach-Bischoff system, giving an advantage to the larger of the two parties.

Israel Votes, You Watch. Live from Jerusalem, watch the Arutz Sheva election special sponsored by the Orthodox Union OU Israel Center today, Tuesday January 22nd from 9:00PM until 2:00AM Israel time / 2:00PM - 7:00PM Eastern Standard Time. Your phone calls will be taken. To watch click here: /Special/ElectionsBroadcast.aspx