At exactly 9 AM New Zealand time on Wednesday, Yosef Livne – Israel's ambassador to New Zealand – was the first Israeli to cast his vote for the 20th Knesset. Though Israel does not allow absentee ballots for expats, its diplomatic corps is allowed to vote from abroad.
There were nine other Israelis slated to vote after him: the Israeli diplomatic mission in New Zealand, their spouses, and Jewish Agency 'shlichim' (emissaries).
New Zealand is the first of 96 Israeli diplomatic missions to vote in this year's elections. 6,250 public servants on behalf of Israel will cast a ballot in 2015. The voting is to last 32 hours, from 9 AM Wellington time until 8 PM San Francisco time, while voting in Israel is permitte only on March 17th.
The largest voting center will be at the Israeli Consulate in New York, where about 600 people have the right to vote. Voting will also occur in the smallest consulates, where only two people – the ambassador and the security officer – will cast a ballot.
There will be no voting at the embassy in Cairo this year and all its diplomats will vote in Israel. However, voting will take place on Thursday at the embassy in Amman, and the ballots from Jordan will be the first to be received by the Central Elections Committee.
"Being the first Israeli citizen to vote has a special meaning," said Livne. "When you read media reports about everything that's happening around us in the Middle East… I think the feeling of living in a democratic country where you can vote and influence events – sometimes you have to stop for a moment and think about how important that is."
Once voting is completed, the ballot box will be sent by diplomatic mail to the Central Elections Committee, where it will be placed in a safe and only counted on March 17, the day of the general election. The ballot boxes from around the world are to be put in a safe within no more than 12 days, Israeli law stipulates.
In the previous elections in 2013, 87 percent of those living abroad and with voting rights cast a vote.
Members of the Central Elections Committee, headed by Justice Salim Joubran, are to visit the situation room in the foreign office to be briefed on the voting on Thursday. Justice Joubran will talk to some of those heading the voting stations abroad via conference call.
Polls have suggested an unpredictable and close race in the 2015 elections. The most recent poll was released by Channel 2 News on Wednesday and showed the Zionist Union receiving 24 seats to Likud's 23.
The poll also had the United Arab List as the third-largest party, with 13 seats. According to the poll, the right wing Bayit Yehudi stood at 12 Knesset seats, tied with Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid. Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu was polling at eight, showing he was losing the fight for centrist voters to Lapid.
According to the to the poll, 15 percent of voters were still unsure about which party they would vote for. When asked who was better equipped to serve as the prime minister, Netanyahu beat out Herzog by 47 percent to 28 percent.