The Israel Police is continuing to investigate suspicions of widespread vote fraud in the Beit Shemesh municipal election two weeks ago, where the Haredi mayor beat his secular challenger by some 900 votes.
The main suspect in the affair is Yishayah Brand, a Beit Shemesh resident who is now under arrest. Brand is suspected of arranging for people to vote in place of others − and in some of the cases he is suspected of employing others who offered to enlist voters or to vote a number of times.
The investigation began after some 200 identity cards and passports were found in an apartment in the city on election day. It seems the documents belonged to Haredi residents of the city who did not intend on voting, or were unable to do so.
The police also found in the apartment a number of men's and women's hats, as well as wigs. After the possibility was raised that such fraud could require the holding of a new election, the responsibility for the investigation was transferred from the Jerusalem District Police to the Lahav 443 national investigations unit, which deals with larger-scale fraud and other major crimes.
Two suspects were arrested at the start of the vote fraud investigation and a number of others were questioned and released to house arrest.
The police began to suspect the entire affair was much more complex than a few isolated cases of fraud and began checking into whether dead people also voted, as well as those who are overseas. It is alleged that the identity cards belong to people who were abroad on election day or to members of radical Hasidic groups who, for ideological reasons, do not vote.
At the same time as the ongoing police investigation, supporters of the losing candidate, Eli Cohen, who lost out to ultra-Orthodox incumbent mayor Moshe Abutbul in the October 22 election, have begun a two-pronged legal and public campaign in an attempt to have the vote cancelled and a new election held. It is also possible the Cohen campaign will be able to have the results of few polling stations annulled.
Since the election Cohen's supporters have collected testimony about vote fraud, irregularities and various mistakes in an attempt to prepare an appeal to the Central Election Committee on the matter.
For example, a number of residents have testified they witnessed irregularities, including some who arrived at their polling stations only to be told that they had voted already.
Rena Hollander, the lawyer who coordinates the legal team set up by the opposition factions in the Beit Shemesh city council to examine the election results, said they have so far exposed a number of methods used to tilt the vote in favor of Abutbul. "We discovered there were dead people who voted, we discovered there were people overseas who voted, we discovered disqualified ballots that seemed to have been disqualified intentionally, and we discovered problems with counting the votes," she said.
The opposition's legal team has succeeded in recent days in receiving the minutes of all the city's polling station committees from the Interior Ministry − and they are examining everyone carefully. One of the claims is that the ballot slips for Cohen inside the voting booth were intentionally defaced by making holes in them, scribbling on them or by gluing a number of slips together.
All these would disqualify the vote for Cohen. In one case, the head of the polling station committee was caught removing all the ballot slips for Cohen and putting them in his pocket.
In a demonstration held last week, the organizers set up a booth manned by volunteer lawyers who signed people on affidavits concerning what they saw on election day.