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Comptroller finds Elections Committee goes overboard with taxpayer funds

CM 04/08/2021

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The Central Elections Committee’s budget rose from NIS 253 million for the March 2015 election to NIS 392 million for the March 2020 election, a 48% increase in budget per polling station, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman wrote in a scathing new report released Wednesday.
The budget for Israeli elections is 46% higher per voter than the average of 18 key countries, including Russia, which budgets half as much per voter as Israel does.
The report factored out the impact of the coronavirus, but noted that the CEC’s budget for the March 2021 election, which was held under the shadow of the pandemic, hit a record NIS 675 million. 
The comptroller also questioned why there has been a 22% rise in the number of workers employed by the committee over the past five years. The expenditure on their employment increased by 63%, as the workers were given raises in an effort to keep them. 

There was a 47% increase in the number of workers employed on Election Day over five years from 2015 to 2020, again purposely not taking into account the 2021 election, when COVID-19 required spreading voters among more polling stations. 
The rise in expenses on salaries was eight times higher than average public workers. The committee spent NIS 166 million on salaries alone in 2020, a 57% rise over five years.
Nevertheless, Englman balanced his criticism with a positive statement about the work of the committee under challenging circumstances.
“In the years 2013-2020, five elections were held in Israel, three of them during one year,” he wrote. “The way in which the committee dealt with the multiplicity of election campaigns and the increase in the number of eligible voters, and the challenges involved, is commendable.”
Englman recommended a plan for the committee to spend money more responsibly, cut expenses and add transparency and oversight.
“It is recommended that the Central Election Committee work to improve the presentation of the budget data and its implementation, and to increase their transparency toward the public and the authorized institutions that approve its budget,” Englman wrote. “It is recommended that it work to ensure that budget and salary increases are provided with strict adherence to budgetary and operational efficiency, and that it will work to improve the audit and control operations of its financial management.”
Englman advised using the 2015 election as a model. 
“It is recommended that the Central Election Committee consider the possibility of formulating a plan to streamline and reduce the costs of holding an election campaign so that it reflects the costs of the 20th Knesset election campaign, plus an increase due to price increases and population growth, while examining the need for budgeting and implementation of new projects and projects that have already begun to be carried out, which are required for the purpose of holding the election,” he wrote.
The comptroller also criticized a massive increase in ads telling people to vote, which resulted in turnout remaining about the same. He lamented the halting of a bill that is intended to repeal the customary arrangement that allocates free air time for publicity broadcasts to the lists running for Knesset.
“It is recommended that the Central Election Committee re-examine the issue of publicity broadcasts, including the need and way to make a change on the issue,” he wrote. 
CEC spokesman Giora Pordes responded that the budget increases were due to the proximity of the multiple elections. He said this made them much more challenging to run, with money needing to be spent over a shorter period of time. 
Pordes said the four elections Englman examined should have taken place over the course of 16 years and the comptroller should have taken that into account.
The spokesman also blamed the additional expenses of the committee on the increased cost for cybersecurity, monitoring polling stations with cameras and necessary technological upgrades. He said the impact of the coronavirus should also have been taken more into account in the comptroller’s report.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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