Your Questions Answered About Israel's Wartime Local Elections

| Written By:

In a few weeks elections will be held in local authorities across Israel. While they were originally scheduled for October 31st, 2023, they were postponed due to the outbreak of war. Elections during wartime raise a slew of challenges that are exceptional to the circumstances. Find out everything you need to know about wartime local elections in Israel.

Photo from Flash90

According to the law, when and how are local elections held?

  • According to section 4 of the Local Authorities (Elections) Law 1965, local elections are held every five years, on the third Tuesday of the month of Cheshvan in the Jewish calendar.
  • Elections are held simultaneously in municipalities, local councils, and regional councils. In the past, elections for regional councils were held on a separate date, but since 2018 all local elections have been held on the same date.
  • Election day is an official work holiday. This used to be the case, though holiday days were not declared for local elections between 1998 and 2013. This practice was restored for the 2018 local elections.

When and how will local elections be held in 2024?

  • Local elections will be held in 239 local authorities on February 27, 2024. In those authorities in which a second round of voting is needed to elect a head of the authority, this second round will be held on March 12.
  • Originally, elections were scheduled to be held in 253 local authorities on October 31, 2023. Following the outbreak of the war in Gaza, the elections were postponed to January 30, 2024, but with an option for a further deferment to February 27, 2024, on condition that the government publish (by December 31, 2023) an order to this effect, to be approved by the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee with a majority of 75% of its members and subsequently by the Knesset (the Postponement of General Elections for Local Authorities Law 2023).[1] At the beginning of December, Minister of Interior Moshe Arbel announced that that in the vast majority of authorities (239), the elections would not be delayed further, and would be held at the end of January. This decision drew considerable political and public criticism (see the position paper published by researchers at the Israel Democracy Institute, which called for the elections to be rescheduled for February), and petitions were also submitted to the Supreme Court asking for the elections to be postponed. Eventually, at the last moment, the government decided on December 31 to issue an order to delay the elections to the end of February. The order was approved the following day by the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee and the Knesset.
  • Alongside this, the minister of the interior decided not to hold elections at this stage in 14 local authorities in the Gaza border region and along the border with Lebanon whose residents were evacuated due to the war (the regional councils of Eshkol, Galil Elyon, Hof Ashkelon, Mevo’ot HaHermon, Mateh Asher, Ma’ale Yosef, Merom HaGalil, Sdot Negev, and Sha’ar Hanegev; the local councils of Metula, Ghajar, and Shlomi; and the municipalities of Kiryat Shmona and Sderot). According to an announcement made by the minister at the beginning of December, the elections in these authorities will be rescheduled for at least 150 days after the evacuation of residents has ended. Moreover, these will be entirely new elections, including with regard to the right to vote and the submission of electoral lists and candidates. At this stage, there is still uncertainty regarding the dates of these elections, as well as the question of whether it will be determined by legislation or by the Minister of Interior alone. It appears such decisions will be made soon.

Elections during wartime: Difficulties and modifications

The full implications of holding elections in a time of war are not yet known. However, we can note several main issues that present particular difficulties and challenges, as well as the solutions that have been proposed:

  • Candidates who are serving in reserve duty. Naturally, candidates in local elections who are serving in reserve duty will find it extremely difficult to run an election campaign (as will party activists who are not candidates), especially in light of the ban on soldiers (including those in active reserve duty) to participate in election campaigning. In principle, according to Chief of General Staff Order 33.113, candidates in elections in any local authority are not to be called for reserve duty or are to be released from reserve duty from the date on which they submitted their candidacy. However, during the war an emergency directive was issued according to which the head of the IDF Personnel Directorate may decide that reservists who are candidates in local elections will continue to serve, if there is a defense-related need for this. According to data published by the IDF, as of December 27, 2023 the number of reservists who are candidates in local elections stood at 3,778, of whom 1,829 were called up via an emergency draft order. According to data published several days earlier, on December 22, 115 of the candidates in reserve duty were in command roles, and 70 were candidates for the position of head of their local authority.

Toward the end of December, when it seemed that the elections would be held at the end of January, the IDF began releasing candidates from reserve duty so that they could run election campaigns. This created a difficult dilemma for some of them, as they wished to continue serving as long as the war continued. Alongside this, the IDF also stated (on December 27) that there were 688 candidates from 144 different local authorities still in reserve duty who could not be released due to the essential nature of their roles. These data were one of the main reasons behind the government’s decision to postpone the elections from January to February.

This problem has not, however, been completely resolved—conflicts regarding the release of candidates from reserve duty continued throughout January, including due to the refusal of certain candidates to leave reserves, some of whom even withdrew their candidacy in order to continue serving. At the end of January, an agreement was raised according to which several hundred candidates, whose continued service in the reserves is critical, will continue to serve and run in the election at the same time, though they will not be able to campaign. Other candidates will be able to leave reserve duty for a short period of time without being released. It is not clear at this stage whether this deal will be implemented.

  • Voting by soldiers and reservists. The procedure for voting by soldiers and reservists is set down in legislation and regulations. Soldiers are entitled to vote at special ballot boxes set up by the IDF, using a system known as “double envelopes”—with voting slips placed into one envelope, which in turn is then placed into a second envelope, on which the details of the soldier in question and the ballot box number are recorded. This is done partly to ensure that no soldier votes more than once (a similar method is used with voters with disabilities who are unable to attend a voting booth). At these special ballot boxes, voters are not presented with voting slips for every party and every candidate in every local authority; rather, there is a list of names of all the electoral lists and candidates in every local authority, and every voter writes, in pen, the name or letter code for their chosen candidate and list.

In statements released at the end of December 2023, the IDF anticipated that it would encounter challenges relating to voting by soldiers stationed in the Gaza Strip, particularly because not all of them would be able to leave the Strip in order to vote. The IDF therefore suggested several solutions, including increasing the number of ballot boxes, and expanding the options for identification methods that soldiers can use when voting (since there are locations in which soldiers are forbidden from carrying with them the identification documents which are required for voting, such as an identification card). Perhaps the most significant change required, according to the IDF, is expanding the range of hours and days on which voting can be conducted. Currently, in line with the Local Authorities Ordinance (Elections) (Regulations Concerning Voting Arrangements for Soldiers and Prisoners) 2018, a military commander may decide that at certain military ballot boxes, “advance elections” will be held: While most voting stations are open only on election day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., ballot boxes for soldiers can be open for the 72 hours leading up to the end of election day. The IDF has noted that at the upcoming elections, advance voting may need to be extended at some ballot boxes, from 72 hours to eight days. Bills on the matter have been submitted and are currently being discussed in the Knesset.

When and how are electoral lists and candidates to be submitted?

In cities and local councils:

  • To stand for election to the council, electoral lists must submit the signatures of at least 200 people who are eligible to vote in that local authority, or of at least 2% of the total number of eligible voters, whichever is lower. Parties and factions with representatives in the Knesset, or which had representatives on the outgoing council, may also submit electoral lists.
  • The number of candidates on an electoral list must be at least one-third of the number of available council seats, and not more than double the number of council seats (see below for details of how the number of council members is set).
  • For an individual to stand for election as mayor (or head of the authority), they must submit the signatures of at least 750 people who are eligible to vote in that local authority, or of at least 3% of the total number of eligible voters, whichever is lower. Parties and factions with representatives in the Knesset, or which had representatives on the outgoing council, may also submit a candidate for mayor.
  • Candidates for mayor must also be named in first place on an electoral list. However, for them to be elected, it is not a requirement for that list to gain representation on the council (see below for details of cases in which the list of a candidate who is elected as mayor is not itself voted onto the council).

In regional councils:

  • Conditions in regional councils are somewhat different. As explained below, elections are held separately in each locality within the regional council. Thus, in order to stand in a given locality, electoral lists must submit the signatures of at least 2% of eligible voters in that locality (and at least five people). The number of candidates on each list must be between three and ten.
  • Candidates for mayor must submit the signatures of at least 3% of the total number of eligible voters in that locality or of 500 eligible voters, whichever is lower. The serving mayor is also entitled to stand, and does not need to submit signatures. In contrast to local authorities and cities, candidates for head of a regional council do not have to stand as members of a list for election to the council.

In all types of local authority:

  • The last date for submitting an electoral list is 40 days before the elections. Regarding the upcoming elections in February, the deadline was 40 days before the original date of October 31, that is, September 21, 2023.
  • The law allows the Central Knesset Elections Committee to bar an electoral list from local elections “if its goals or actions, whether explicitly or implicitly, include one of the following: (1) denial of the right to exist of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people; (2) denial of the democratic character of the state; (3) incitement to racism” (Local Authorities (Elections) Law 1965, section 39a). Petitions requesting that a particular list be disqualified for these reasons may be submitted by the attorney general or by the elections committee of the relevant local authority, and appeals against disqualifications may be submitted to the Supreme Court (with the approval of the president of the Supreme Court).

The electoral system in cities and local councils

Unlike in Knesset elections, voters in local elections cast two ballots: one voting slip for the head of the authority, and a second slip for the council itself.

  • The system for electing the head of the authority is simple. Every voter can cast a single ballot for one of the candidates. If a certain candidate wins at least 40% of the valid votes cast in the elections, that candidate is selected in the first round. If this does not happen, then a second round of voting is held two weeks later, in which voters choose between the two leading candidates from the first round, and the candidate who receives the most votes is the winner. If there is only one candidate standing, then voters may vote either for or against that candidate; if the number of votes for is greater than the number of votes against, then the candidate is elected, and if not, then the elected council will choose a mayor from among its members. If there is only one candidate and also only one list in the elections for the council, then the candidate is declared head of the authority without elections being held.
  • The system for electing the council is similar to the system used in Knesset elections. This is the closed-list system, in which every voter may cast a single ballot for one of the lists (there are no electoral constituencies within a local authority, and voters do not have the opportunity to influence the ranking of candidates within a list). The division of council seats is carried out as follows:

    • First, the minister of interior decides the number of seats on the council. The minister does this by issuing an order based on the number of residents in the local authority and in accordance with the guidelines set in law. According to the law, the minimum number is five council members (for local councils with up to 1,000 residents), and the maximum number is 31 (in cities with more than 100,000 residents, the minister of interior may set the number of council members at between 21 and 31).[2] In practice, in the upcoming local elections, the smallest local councils will have seven members (such as Metula, with 1,901 residents), while the three largest cities will have 31 council members: Haifa (around 335,000 residents), Tel Aviv (around 577,000), and Jerusalem (around 1.6 million).
    • If the list which features the candidate who is elected head of the authority is not elected to the council, then the elected authority head is also appointed to the council, such that the number of council members is increased by one.[3]
    • The electoral threshold in local elections (the percentage of total valid votes cast which is required in order to gain representation on the council) is not uniform, but is set for each local authority separately. This is done by dividing the number of valid votes cast in the elections by the number of council members due to be chosen. The result of this calculation is called the “quota,” and the electoral threshold is set at 75% of the quota. Because the electoral threshold is set separately for each local authority, it can differ greatly from authority to authority; as a rule, it is higher in smaller local authorities. Thus for example, in the 2018 elections, the electoral threshold in Tel Aviv was 2.42%, while in Jish (a small local council also known as Gush Halav) it was 8.33%.
    • Once the electoral threshold has been determined, the number of votes cast in total for the lists that exceeded the threshold is divided by the number of council members to be chosen. The result is called the “measure,” and this is the number of votes required to win one seat on the council.
    • Every list that participates in the division of seats receives a number of seats equivalent to the whole number (rounded down) reached when the number of votes it received in the elections is divided by the measure.
    • When this process is completed, if any seats on the council are left unfilled, then the “surplus votes” are divided up according to the size of the “surplus” received by each list.
    • If only one list is standing, then no elections are held, and this list is awarded all the seats on the council.

The electoral system in regional councils[4]

  • The system used to elect heads of regional councils is identical to that used to elect the heads of municipalities and local councils. It should be noted that, just as in elections in local councils and cities, if the person elected head of the local authority is not elected to the council, then they are added to it automatically. The difference in this case is that the head of a regional council does not have to stand for the local committee in their locality of residence, whereas candidates for head of a local council or municipality must appear in the first placing of one of the candidate lists.
  • However, the system for electing the council itself is different: Every locality constitutes a separate constituency, and its representative(s) to the council are elected separately. Each locality has at least one representative on the council, and larger localities have more than one representative. The precise number of representatives is set using the “general measure,” which is the number of residents who are “worth” one seat on the council, and which is published by the minister of interior for each regional council separately before the elections, following a recommendation made by the council itself. If the council does not recommend a particular general measure, then each locality numbering up to 750 residents is given one representative on the council, and larger localities receive two representatives. In the upcoming elections in Neve Midbar, which includes four Arab localities, only four representatives will be elected to the council, one from each locality. By contrast, in the largest regional council (in terms of number of residents), Mateh Binyamin, there are 28 localities and 30 council members.
  • In localities that send just one representative to the council—and as noted, these are the majority of localities—the electoral system is very simple: The list that receives the largest number of votes sends the first candidate on its list to the council. In these localities, the definition of “list” is largely formal, as in practice, the election is a “head-to-head” contest between individual candidates, somewhat similar to parliamentary elections in single-member districts (as are held in the United States and Britain, for example). The list only has significance if the representative elected to the council subsequently leaves the council: s/he is then replaced by the number two on the list.
  • In localities that send more than one representative to the council, the measure is calculated first, being the number of valid votes cast in that locality divided by the number of representatives the locality sends to the council. Every list that participates in the division of seats is given a number seats equivalent to the whole number (rounded down) reached by dividing the number of votes it received by the measure. Subsequently, if there are still seats belonging to the locality that have not been awarded to the lists, then a process of dividing up the surplus votes is conducted: The remaining seats are divided among the lists according to the relative size of the surplus votes they received (the number of votes the list has “left over” after seats are distributed based on the measure).
  • In any case, if only one list is put forward, then—just as in elections in cities and local councils—elections are not held, and that list is awarded all the council seats belonging to that locality.
  • Another difference between the types of local authority is that lists in regional council elections cannot be connected in any way to national political parties. They are always “independent” lists.



[1] The law also details various adjustments necessary due to the election being postponed regarding such issues as election funding, the status of workers who took vacation or quit their jobs in order to stand in the elections, and more. These issues are not addressed in this review.

[2] The minister of interior may also decide that a certain local authority will have a larger number of council members than the figures presented here, in accordance with restrictions laid down in the legislation. We do not expand on this issue here.

[3] Though this rule was intended for exceptional cases, in practice it applies to quite a few. A famous example is that of Moshe Leon, who in 2018 was elected mayor of Jerusalem, while his list, Our Jerusalem, failed to win a council seat. Leon was thus made an additional member of the council, which grew from 31 to 32 seats. During the same elections, similar cases occurred in several Haredi local authorities (Immanuel and Beitar Illit) and others, but almost all such cases happen in Arab local authorities. According to data collected by researchers at the Israel Democracy Institute (Dr. Ariel Finkelstein, Dr. Itamar Yakir, and Yechiel Noam), at the 2018 elections, of the 78 Arab municipalities and local councils in which elections were held, there were 52 (67%) in which the list of the elected mayor did not gain a seat on the council, and in most cases received only a handful of votes. This is clearly a conscious tactic: The candidate for mayor intentionally stands in a “fictitious” list that will not pass the electoral threshold, and thus wins an additional council seat and gains greater political power. A position paper published by researchers at the Israel Democracy Institute criticized this rule of making the mayor an additional council member, and called for it to be changed.

[4] In regional councils, there are elections not only for the council and the mayor, but also for the local committees that administer each of the member localities (kibbutzim, moshavim, villages, and so on). That is, residents of a locality in a regional council cast three ballots: a blue voting slip for their local committee, a white slip for a list for the regional council, and a yellow slip for the head of the regional council.