Kids cast their votes Tzipi Livni comes out on top

Who says the only things kids can vote for these days are “American Idol” and the Teen Choice Awards?

On Jan. 29, the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco opened its doors to three Bay Area Jewish schools for an up-close look at Israel’s official voting process and a mock election.

“The consulate was really cool, organized and structured,” said Jesse Duhan, 14, of Berkeley. “We’re going to Israel in two months, so learning about the laws really helped us prepare.”

The event coincided with the worldwide casting of ballots by Israelis living abroad — including diplomats, attachés, emissaries and sailors — for the upcoming Israeli national elections Feb. 10.

Unlike the United States and some other countries, Israel does not permit absentee voting for most of its citizens. According to the Central Elections Committee, only some 5,600 Israelis are eligible for absentee voting.

The S.F.-based consulate served as an official polling place from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Jan 29. That day, 31 people cast their votes for the 18th Knesset, according to Eytan Elterman, the consulate’s director of public affairs. 

Students from Brandeis Hillel Day School in San Rafael, Oakland Hebrew Day School and Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito learned the mechanics of voting and listened to presentations about eight of Israel’s 34 political parties represented in the upcoming election.

Consulate staff members provided the background, platform and leading candidates for each party. Following the explanations, students filled out their choices on note cards and dropped them in an “official” ballot box.

A majority of the students voted for the Kadima Party and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. 

“Voting was the best part of the day,” said Eyal Mayer, 13, of Berkeley. “It was fun to vote for what you believe in.”

National elections to the Knesset are held once every four years, unless circumstances require early elections. After the general vote count is over, the votes from abroad are opened and counted, along with other votes submitted by soldiers, prisoners and hospital patients.

Israel’s S.F.-based Consul General Akiva Tor said he hopes the consulate will continue inviting students to participate in a mock election every four years.

“We wanted to have the kids become interested in Israel, its issues and the political system,” he said. “We made an attempt to show the political diversity of Israel, and I think it got across.”

Shelley Paz of the Jerusalem Post contributed to this report.