Livni camp concerned: Kadima's Central Elections Committee approved Tzipi Livni's request to extend voting hours to 10:30 pm, instead of 10 pm, as result of "congestion at polling stations" nationwide. Earlier in the day, Livni associates expressed deep concern over the low voter turnout rate reported across the country.
Voting hours were initially extended to 11 pm in wake of Livni's request, but the decision was changed following an appeal submitted by Mofaz's camp. By 10 pm, roughly 50% of registered Kadima voters cast their ballots.
Earlier, Foreign Minister Livni said she is disappointed by the low turnout rate. The top Kadima leadership candidate said that the "turnout rate is unsatisfactory. People should come out and vote." Officials in Livni's camp were hoping to see a much higher turnout rate by evening hours.
Meanwhile, officials in the Mofaz camp are apparently less concerned about the low figures, as Mofaz is believed to enjoy better organizational support among large groups of voters.
Livni with a supporter (Photo: AP)
"These are critical hours. We will concentrate our efforts on bringing as many registered as possible out to vote," a Mofaz associate said earlier in the day.
Who will replace Olmert?
Some 74,000 registered party voters will determine who will replace the resigning Prime Minister Ehud Olmert – Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit or Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter.
The 114 polling stations set up throughout the country opened at 10:00 am and will close at 10:30 pm, following Livni's request. The official winner is expected to be announced at around 1:30 am.
Olmert cast his vote for his successor as Kadima chairman at the party's Jerusalem polling station. Asked who he had voted for, the prime minister responded, "I voted well." He waved and promised, "We'll meet again."
Livni cast her vote in her hometown of Tel Aviv, and was later set to tour voting stations in Petah Tikva and Rehovot.
Olmert votes in Jerusalem (Photo: Dudi Vaaknin)
Upon entering the polling booth, the foreign minister said, "My vote carries the same weight as any other vote. I call on everyone to cast their vote. Vote according to your belief.
"Take your children along and show them how you influence the State's character. People know they can make a change. Come vote. The change begins here, at the polling booth."
The Shin Bet recently decided to significantly enlarge Livni's security detail, Ynet learned Wednesday.
Sheetrit: Results won't resemble polls
Mofaz and his wife Orit cast their votes in the city of Kfar Saba. The transportation minister told reporter, "I feel excellent. This evening will have a good ending. I slept eight hours tonight. I stand behind my belief that I am going to win."
Asked whether he would like to say something to his activists, Mofaz replied, "That they should come and vote, and believe me, they will."
Minister Dichter voted at a hotel in Ashkelon, following his morning swim. "The pollsters have been proven wrong in the past, and I suppose they may be proven wrong today as well," he said.
The internal security minister added that he was cautiously optimistic in regards to his chances, saying that he wouldn't have run had he not believed that that he possess the ability to lead the State better than the other candidates.
Minister Sheetrit, who cast his vote at the Kadima headquarters in Yavne, said before entering the polling booth, "I have a great feeling. I call on the public to vote not according to the polls.
"I am convinced the results won't resemble the polls. I have always said that votes are counted after exiting the polling stations, not before," the interior minister told reporters.
Claims of irregularities
The Livni campaign filed a complaint with the police and the Kadima elections committee on Wednesday afternoon, demanding that the polling station in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev be cancelled.
According to the foreign minister's associates, a voter was caught on tape admitting that he was paid by the Mofaz campaign to vote for the transportation minister in the primary elections.
Dichter's campaign also filed a complaint with the election committee, accusing Livni's people of committing a series of violent acts in polling stations in the cities of Rahat and Ashkelon.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's nephew, Yair, caused havoc at a Kadima polling station in Rehovot, shortly before Livni arrived at the place. He claimed that "hooligans have taken control of the voting station" and accused Livni's people of irregularities.
At Livni and Mofaz's headquarters tensions are rising as both chase down the very last Kadima members to ensure those supporting them cast their votes.
Mofaz is considered the more organized candidate and he has won the support of many of the people on the street and that of the big party constituencies.
Livni has had to work hard over the past several weeks to raise her profile within the party after nearly two and a half years of neglecting her internal political base.
The night before the determinant elections were spent in last-minute attempts to influence the voters.
The Mofaz headquarters hopes to bring more than 15,000 supporters to the ballots.
The Livni headquarters is hanging its hopes on a high voter turnout, which will spell out a Livni victory - polls say. Pollster Kalman Guyer estimates a high turnout will guarantee Livni a 20% edge over her rivals.
Mofaz said earlier this week he remains confident and assured supporters he would win 43.7% of the votes.
Attila Somfalvi, Eli Senyor, Amnon Meranda and Roni Sofer contributed to this report