Israelis go to the polls in large numbers


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israelis were voting for the 19th Knesset in record numbers.

On a sunny and warm Election Day, more than one-quarter of eligible Israelis had voted as of noon on Jan. 22 — reportedly the highest voter turnout since 1999. Most polls will remain open until 10 p.m.

There are nearly 5.66 millon eligible voters and some 10,132 ballot boxes set up across the country.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Western Wall after voting when the polls first opened in Jerusalem. He reportedly placed a paper in the wall asking for success in the day’s election.

President Shimon Peres also voted early in Jerusalem.

"In 65 years of existence, Israel went through seven wars but never lost its democratic freedom," he said. "We fought for our survival but never gave up our democracy. We are a unique country; neither war nor trouble can overcome freedom. Today is a celebration of that democracy. I wish all the candidates good luck."

Peres called upon the citizens of Israel to vote.

"Today the state is asking citizens to vote for a free, beautiful, democratic country. You can hesitate over who to vote for, but don’t hesitate to vote," he said. 

Most Israelis have Election Day off from work and schools are closed. With the ideal weather, many Israelis traveled to different areas of the country, including the North, where there is snow and skiing on Mount Hermon.

Some 85 percent of the ballots cast will be counted late at night after the polls close, with the rest counted the following day.

(JTA is live-blogging throughout Election Day; visit often to see what is happening throughout the country as Israelis go to the polls to elect the 19th Knesset.)

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