Politics Magazine

Elections-good for Business, Good for Democracy

By Gldmeier @gldmeier
A guest post by Dr. Harold Goldmeier
               Bet Shemesh residents are greeting the unprecedented Jerusalem District Court ruling ordering new elections with grumbling and folderol.   There was massive and systematic fraud in last October’s election of Haredi Bet Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbol according to the Court.  His campaign is applying for permission to appeal.  Five judges will hear arguments. If they rule Abutbol can appeal the Court will decide in days. If defeated a government Minister can order new elections immediately.   In the interim, Bet Shemesh government rumbles on by inertia.  City Council committees are frozen. New appointments, municipal projects, and construction plan approvals, are on hold. Streets are cleaned and garbage collected, sans much management control.   Residents ought not despair. Elections are good for business and for democracy.   Several hundred stolen election ballots and voting with fake i.d.’s described as massive and systematic fraud is risible compared to shenanigans elsewhere. I remember one Chicago mayor pulling the operating license of a day care center where an opposing candidate’s wife worked; restaurants targeted for health inspections after hosting campaign parties for opponents, or the tale of the mayor refusing to submit election results in a timely way until he was sure he knew the number of votes needed to elect his favorite for President of the United States. The only community to report later was a leper colony in Hawaii. In my career, three Illinois Governors went to jail where two remain until today.   Eli Cohen forged a coalition of religious and secular supporters to battle Abutbol and his religious right cohorts. The election became entangled in a web of passion and loathing, desperate appeals and self-deluding simplicities. Cohen will have a harder time winning a new election. If he does win, Cohen will likely be the last non-Haredi Mayor of Bet Shemesh for the foreseeable future.    The community is increasingly Haredi and Hasidic with whom Abutbol’s strength lies. Edas Haredit, Ger, Belz, Satmar and Neturei Karta Haredim dominate the Ramat Bet Shemesh Bet neighborhood. Thousands of new dwellings under construction attract these groups, while only hundreds of new units are designated for secular and modern-Orthodox families. During the first election campaign a Haredi national leader allegedly told a Cohen volunteer Haredim hope to turn Bet Shemesh into another political stronghold modeling Bnei Brak and Betar Illit. The former is one of the poorest most densely populated cities in Israel dependent on annual subsidies from the Interior Ministry in the millions of shekels.  The latter boasts a 65% unemployment rate among working age men. At some point officials will need an economic plan to keep Bet Shemesh sustainable.   Concomitantly, secular and modern-Orthodox residents are leaving Bet Shemesh or trickling into the city. The increasingly stringent demands of Haredim spark tensions between differing streams of Judaism they are unwilling to tolerate. My modern-Orthodox, national service participating nieces own three apartments in Bet Shemesh, but live elsewhere.   There were some 40,000 votes cast in the last Bet Shemesh election.  Extrapolating from the election for Knesset last year, an election costs government and candidates about NIS50 per vote.  The money is spent on campaign paraphernalia, glossy brochures and signs, manning and setting up voting booths, feeding volunteers, cleanup, and more. Election spending pours NIS2,000,000 into the local economy. Candidates spent hundreds of thousands shekels in a first round campaign to designate two finalists. Another NIS200,000 or more was spent between the two finalists for office. Contributions from national parties controlled by MKs Deri and Bennett added to local spending and economic dissilience.   Printers, sign makers, advertising agencies, restaurants, and caterers, street sweepers and garbage men, campaign workers, police overtime, and other “little people” financially benefited.  Local people prosper from local elections, but so does democracy.   One study out of the Cato Institute concludes “spending increases public knowledge of the candidates, across essentially all groups in the population.  Less spending on campaigns is not likely to increase public trust, involvement, or attention.” Democracies strengthen in proportion to campaign spending.     A pessimist might agree with Mark Twain’s delightful observation that “If voting made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it.”  More realistically is the caveat that “Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.”  The Cato report concludes, “Campaign spending benefits democracy,” and apparently the local economy. The re-election of a mayor might be a chore, but residents ought not shilly-shally on election day.    
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