The J-Post is reporting that there may be as much as 3% higher turnout at the polls as Israel votes for a new Knesset.
The Kadima party and Likud are neck and neck while several of the pivotal smaller parties are worried that the higher turnout will reduce their representation in the Knesset thus weakening their bargaining position when it comes time for either Likud's Netanyahu or Kadima's Livni to form a government.
As of 6:00 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, some 50.3 percent of the 5.2 million people eligible to vote had cast their ballots at the 9,263 polling stations available nationwide, the Central Elections Committee (CEC) said. The turnout was 3% higher than the figure registered at the same stage of the 2006 general election, but 2% lower than the previous elections in 2003.
Throughout the day, the CEC warned that no exit polls were to be published until the last polling stations close at 10 p.m.
Political leaders cast their ballots on Tuesday morning and called upon those eligible to vote to brave the rainy weather and exercise their right.
Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman was the first of the leaders of the four major parties to vote, saying afterwards, "I wish to take advantage of this moment to call upon all of the residents of Israel, Jews and Christians, Druze and Muslim, to come and vote." He also praised his own party as the only one that "has come to work" and was confident that "people would come and vote even in a hurricane."
Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah voted in Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood. Netanyahu expressed optimism coming out of the polling booth. "The people want change, and today they will choose change," he said. "Those who want a new way will focus around the Likud and around me."
Kadima leader Tzipi Livni voted near her Tel Aviv home and said, "I have done all that I want every citizen of Israel to do."
Later at her campaign headquarters, she said "whoever gets more mandates, the significance [of this] is that they receive the trust of the public and no one can argue with that."
"We are the only ones who can form a national unity government," she added.
Both major parties have indicated they will not join in a coalition government with the other but that may be posturing. With a new, less friendly administration in Washington and Iran close to realizing the capability to construct a nuclear weapon, the challenges facing the Jewish state at this point in its history would almost demand some kind of unity government.