Is it okay to record in polling stations?
In advance of the upcoming elections, the public conversation is filled with debate over placing cameras and recording devices in polling stations.
During these past April elections, Likud members brought cameras to Arab polling stations. Revealed on the morning of Election Day, the act caused a public outcry. The Elections Commission Chairman ruled that no visual documentation (i.e. video) is permitted during voting, but allowed for audio documentation. He added that filming while voting is permitted only if there is suspicion of voter fraud and there is express intent of documenting such an incident. Finally, he decided that the vote count can be filmed, as long as the counters are informed in advance.
Likud activists recently announced their plan to expand on this strategy for the upcoming elections, and hope that other parties will follow suit. Following this announcement, ACRI petitioned the Elections Commission Chairman and requested that he inform the members of the Polling Stations Commission and polling station observers that use of both visual and audio technology to document what is happening inside of the polling station is prohibited, both during voting and the vote count.
ACRI Attorney Gil Gan-Mor wrote:
The use of technology to surveil and document what happens inside polling stations raises many issues and is likely to violate basic rights. Because this is a highly sensitive topic, any documentation at polling stations needs to be regulated in legislation, and cannot be the result of an administrative decision determined by the Elections Commission Chairman. Such a piece of legislation would be required to answer the challenges raised by documentation, including issues of equality.
Bringing technological means of documentation - both visual and audio- to the polling station has potential to disrupt order, suppress the vote, and violate both privacy and the public trust in the concept of the secret ballot.
Framing the discussion simply as a need to balance the right to privacy and protect electoral purity is incorrect and supports ethnic discrimination. Such framing ignores the fact that the use of cameras in this case is the ruling party acting against Arab citizens based on their ethnicity. Such actions cannot be supported.
Even if the decision theoretically allows anyone to document at any polling station, due to power gaps between the different stakeholders, this would still create inequality. It is easier to supervise the polling stations of minorities, especially when, as in the case of Arab citizens, one can know the ethnicity of voters based on the polling station’s location. On the other hand, it is more difficult for the minority group to supervise majority group polling stations.
If documentation is done by private individuals, it will lead to its selective use and a violation of the concept of equality in elections.
If we do want to document inside of polling station, we must only allow neutral state actors to do so, and not private individuals with private interests.
Update: On 26.8.2019 the Elections Commission Chairman supported ACRI’s position and ruled that observers from political parties are not allowed to film or record inside of polling stations. We commend this decision. Voting is a basic right and there is no place for attempts to scare voters as we saw with Likud’s actions in the last elections.
Update: Following the Chairman’s decision, the Justice Minister published a memorandum to amend the Law of Elections. The proposal would allow party representatives in the Polling Stations Commission and party-affiliated observers to film the polling station area. In our comments on the memorandum we note that the timing of the legislation- during election season- is invalid and harms the public interest. We also oppose the proposed content as it is harmful and not proportional. By allowing both documentation while voting and the use of surveillance technology by political stakeholders, the proposal would further violate basic rights and important interests.