A rhyming Hebrew cliché says, mi shematzbia — mashpia. Roughly translated: Those who cast — last.  
On Tuesday, as Israel endures its ritual held every two years since 1996 — national elections — a large minority of Israelis, perhaps as much as one-third, will choose not to vote at all. And if the weather forecast is accurate, predicting heavy rain, the turnout may be even lower. It may be as low as 63%, or lower, which is the percent of eligible voters who voted in America’s November 2008 Presidential election. The difference is, 63% will be close to the lowest turnout in Israel’s history, while 63% ranked as the highest American turnout since 1960 (when Kennedy was elected).

Many of those choosing not to vote will be younger voters, who see no difference between the leading parties and candidates and no real discussion of issues. I can’t blame them.

What can be done? I cannot transform Barak, Livni and Bibi into Obama. But perhaps I can make a modest suggestion for an innovation.

Two years ago we brought TIM managers on a benchmarking visit to Estonia, the tiny Baltic country a short ferry-ride southeast of Finland. There, Prime Minister Andrus Ansip himself told us that Estonia had held the world’s first comprehensive on-line ballot. Estonians voted from home, via computer; 3.5% voted online, on February 2007. It was the second time they did; the system was tried in municipal elections in 2005.

There are two major advantages. First, nations that aspire to be technology leaders, like Israel, should walk their talk. Second, on rainy days, like Tuesday, those who might be reluctant to go out in the rain, or who need to travel distances to vote (because they’ve changed their residence and did not update their voting information) will vote in two minutes from their armchairs. And young people, especially, are more likely to vote if they can do so while surfing the Net. 

Here is what WIRED magazine wrote about the Estonian innovation:

“The system, first tested in local elections in 2005, requires the use of a national ID card held by about 1 million of the country’s 1.3 million residents, which includes an electronic chip identifying its owner. Card readers were available from retailers before the elections for about $8, or are given away free by banks for use with e-banking applications. Election officials don’t know exactly how many people have the readers, but the number has grown sharply in recent months as prices have fallen, Koitmäe said.

And by the way — Estonia leads the world in on-line banking. Few Estonians actually visit their branch. Ansip holds cabinet meetings with absent ministers joining by Web, wherever they are in the world.  

There are technological and security problems to overcome. But, says Tarvi Martens, the person who built the Estonian system, “You trust your money with the internet, and you won’t trust your vote? I don’t think so.” 

Surely a nation as advanced as Israel in Information Technology can surmount them. Let’s bring the mechanism of casting a ballot into the 20th century (not to mention the 21st). Why is the ballot the last place that technology has yet to visit?

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