Israel Election 2019: Right-wing Bloc in Clear Lead, Netanyahu Promises to Form Government ‘Swiftly’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has all but secured a 5th term on Wednesday morning, after more than 95 percent of the votes gave the right-wing bloc a 10-seat lead over the left.

>> Israel election 2019: Full coverage

Netanyahu’s Likud tied with Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party with 35 seats each. Both leaders made victory speeches after the exit polls, vowing to be "everyone’s prime minister."

But almost all right-wing parties have said they would recommend to the president that Netanyahu form the next ruling coalition. Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s Hayamin Hehadash, as well as the far-right Zehut party led by Moshe Feiglin and Orly Levi-Abekasis’ Gesher did not make it past the electoral threshold.

In the right-wing bloc, the parties that made it into the Knesset are Likud, United Torah Judaism, Shas, Yisrael Beiteinu, Right-wing Union and Kulanu. In the center-left bloc, the parties that made it into the Knesset are Kahol Lavan, Hadash-Ta’al, Labor, Meretz and United Arab List-Balad. 

Turnout has been historically low in the Arab community, according to pollsters. Netanyahu’s Likud party provided activists with 1,200 hidden cameras "to monitor" Arab polling stations — a move that prompted Israel’s Central Elections Committee to file a police complaint.

Israeli election results

11:07 A.M. Netanyahu’s next coalition: Annexation for immunity from indictment | Analysis

10:45 A.M. Chair of Right-wing Union: We will demand the justice and education ministries

Leader of the Right-wing Union Rafi Peretz said that his far-right coalition, which includes Kahanists, will demand both the justice and education minister positions. "We want to continue the road taken by Habayit Hayehudi," he said in a radio interview. "[Bezalel] Smotrich will naturally deal with judicial matters, and I will deal with education."

Peretz added that he is not content with the results, which saw Hayamin Hehadash party falling below the electoral threshold, and said that uniting with Kahane followers saved the religious zionist camp. 

10:24 A.M. Hayamin Hehadash is 4,300 votes short of entering the Knesset

Naftali Bennett speaking in Hayamin Hehadsh headquarters in Bnei Brak, Israel, April 9, 2019.

After counting more than 95% of votes, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s Hayamin Hehadash party is just 4,300 votes short of passing the electoral threshold. The standing difference between the right-wing party and United Arab List-Balad – who currently passes the threshold – is 8,400 votes. 

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Now being counted are double-sealed envelopes for people who did not vote in their designated polling station, including soldiers and diplomats. 

10:04 A.M. Palestinian Liberation Organization: Israelis chose to entrench and expand apartheid

A statement by PLO Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi said that, "Regrettably, Israelis overwhelmingly voted for candidates that are unequivocally committed to entrenching the status quo of oppression, occupation, annexation and dispossession in Palestine and escalating the assault on Palestinian national and human rights. They have chosen an overwhelmingly rightwing, Xenophobic and anti-Palestinian parliament to represent them. Israelis chose to entrench and expand apartheid."

– The Great Israel Election quiz

The statement added, "The extremist and militaristic agenda, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, has been emboldened by the Trump administration’s reckless policies and blind support… The Palestinian people will overcome this dark and highly dangerous chapter and remain deeply rooted in our homeland."

9:37 A.M. Lieberman: I’ll either join a Likud government or stay in opposition

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday he would not recommend Benny Gantz to the president to form a coalition. Speaking to the Ynet news site, the former defense minister said such a scenario "doesn’t exist."

Lieberman said his party would either join a government led by Netanyahu or stay in the opposition. "It needs to be understood that Smotrich and Rabbi Peretz are no less Orthodox than Shas and United Torah Judaism," he said, referring to the leaders of the Union of Right-Wing Parties. "We won’t give up our principles, our agenda is clear," said Lieberman, who ran on a secular, right-wing platform which included mandatory army conscription for the ultra-Orthodox.

9:25 A.M. Feiglin: The privileged left stopped me from passing the electoral threshold

Chair of messianic pro-marijuana Zehut party Moshe Feiglin said on Wednesday morning that a number of factors contributed to his party’s poor election results. He accused far-right parties, the rabbis of Yesha Council, Meretz, Haaretz newspaper and the "privileged left" of having attacked his campaign.

In polls, Feiglin’s party was predicted to win five Knesset seats, but with 95% of votes counted, it fails to pass the electoral threshold.   

9:21 A.M. Bennett hangs hope on still uncounted votes of Israeli soldiers

Co-chair of Hayamin Hehadash party Naftali Bennett said on Wednesday morning that he is waiting for the counting of votes by Israeli soldiers, hoping that they will raise his party above the 3.25-percent electoral threshold. 

"All my life I gave everything I had for this good nation. I have always been a soldier of this country. As a fighter in Sayeret Matkal, as a high-tech entrepreneur, as a minister of education and in the security cabinet during Operation Pillar of Defense," Bennet said. "Now it’s time for the soldiers to decide whether I will continue fighting for them."

8:56 A.M. Nearly all right-wing parties declare they will recommend Netanyahu to form coalition

Nearly all right-wing parties declared Tuesday they will recommend Benjamin Netanyahu to President Reuven Rivlin to form the next government.

Kulanu, the Union of Right-Wing Parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism together got 25 Knesset seats. With Likud – who received 35 Knesset seats – the right-wing bloc would achieve the minimum 60 Knesset seats required for forming a coalition… Read the full story here

8:55 A.M. Benny Gantz: It’s looking bleak, but electoral shift is possible

Benny Gantz wrote his party members Wednesday morning: "It’s looking bleak but the results are not yet final. It’s possible that there will be electoral shifts, and that we can make certain political moves."

Gantz said that his voters wanted hope and were given hope. "They wanted a different way and we showed it to them. We will not back down from our public duty to represent over a million people who asked us for something different. It’s an unprecedented historical victory. We should be proud."

5:52 A.M. 94 percent of votes counted; Likud and Kahol Lavan get 35 Knesset seats each 

With 94 percent of the votes counted, Likud and Kahol Lavan are tied at 35 seats each, but the right-wing bloc gets 65 seats in total.

Ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism have eight seats each, Yisrael Beiteinu and the Union of Right-Wing Parties five, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu four.

Among center-left parties, Labor gets six seats, as does Arab-majority Hadash-Ta’al. Meretz has four seats, and United Arab List-Balad barely makes it over the 3.25-percent electoral threshold, securing four Knesset seats.

Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s Hayamin Hehadash and Orly Levi-Abekasis’ Gesher fail to enter the Knesset. 

5:18 A.M. Netanyahu and Gantz neck in neck but right-wing bloc still likelier to form government

With 93 percent of the votes counted, Likud gets 37 Knesset seats while Kahol Lavan gets 36 seats. The right-wing bloc garners altogether 67 seats, making it likelier for them to form the next coalition.

Ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, both likely to back Netanyahu as next prime minister, have eight seats each.

Labor and Arab-majority Hadash-Ta’al have six seats each, and right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu, led by former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the Union of Right-Wing Parties and Meretz all have five.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu gets four seats.

United Arab List-Balad is just dozens of votes short of passing the 3.25-percent electoral threshold. Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s Hayamin Hehadash and Orly Levi-Abekasis’ Gesher also fail to enter the Knesset. 

4:10 A.M. With most votes counted, Netanyahu’s Likud maintains lead

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party gets 37 out of 120 Knesset seats, according to partial results in Israel’s general election. With 79 percent of the votes counted, Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan is only slightly behind with 36 seats.

Ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, both likely to back Netanyahu as next prime minister, have eight and seven seats, respectively.

Right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu, led by former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, as well as left-wing Labor, both have six seats.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu, Meretz, the Union of Right-Wing Parties and Arab-majority Hadash-Ta’al all have five seats.

Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s Hayamin Hehadash, Orly Levi-Abekasis’ Gesher and United Arab List-Balad all fail to enter the Knesset. 

3:30 A.M. Results begin to emerge, 64 percent of the votes have been counted 

Results of Israel’s election began to emerge, with 64 percent of the votes counted. According to the votes counted thus fur, Netanyahu’s Likud is in the lead with 38 Knesset seats, while Gantz’s Kahol Lavan comes in second with 35 Knesset seats. 

Religious party Shas is standing to gain eight seats, while United Torah Judaism receives seven. Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu gets six seats, as well as Labor Party, while Kulanu, Union of the Right-Wing Parties, Meretz and Hadash-Ta’al all receive five seats. 

Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s Hayamin Hehadash, Orly Levi-Abekasis’ Gesher and United Arab List-Balad all fail to enter the Knesset. 

2:11 A.M. Netanyahu in celebratory speech: ‘This is a night of great victory’

"We love you," Netanyahu told Likud supporters in a victory speech he held after exit polls showed his party has likely won the election. "23 years ago it was the first time Sara [his wife] and myself stood here, and here we return because of you and for you." 

"This is a night of great victory," Netanyahu said to a standing ovation. 

"I operate day and night for you, for the country, for our land," he added. "You earned an almost unfathomable feat in the face of biased media and under impossible conditions," he extolled Israelis who voted for his Likud party. 

"The right-wing bloc will continue to lead Israel for the next four years," he added. 

01:55 A.M. Updated exit polls show Likud overtaking Kahol Lavan by one seat  

The most recent exit polls still gave advantage to the right-wing bloc, showing that it is likely to garner 63-65 Knesset seats, while the center-left bloc has 55-57 seats, with the Likud overtaking Kahol Lavan by just one seat. 

According to both exit polls by Channel 13 News and Channel 12 News, the Likud will snag 35 Knesset seats. 

Both exit polls also showed that Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s Hayamin Hehadash party did not pass the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party is going to receive four Knesset seats, the exit polls indicated, while the United Arab List-Balad, which was at risk of not making it into the Knesset, will get four to six seats as well. 

The exit polls also predicted that Orly Levi-Abekasis’ Gesher party as well as Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut party will fail to enter the Knesset.

1:43 A.M. Turnout at 67.9 percent as polls close, down from 2015

Voter turnout stands at 67.9 percent as of 10 P.M., when polls closed — down from 72.33 percent in 2015.

1:38 A.M. 12 Takeaways from Israel’s looniest election that Netanyahu just won. Or is it Gantz? | Analysis

Based on initial exit polls, both Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu can point to historic achievements in Tuesday’s election. Gantz came out of nowhere and within a few short months set up a political party that is now inches away from power. Netanyahu overcame natural fatigue from his decade in power, three criminal indictments, a looming submarine scandal and the wholesale enlistment of his rivals. Although the jury is still out, the exit polls indicate that Netanyahu is within striking distance of a fourth straight term in office, during which he will pass David Ben-Gurion on way to become Israel’s longest ruling prime minister. Read the full analysis here (Chemi Shalev)

1:04 A.M. Feiglin says disappointed: ‘There will be another election’

Far-right Zehut Chairman Moshe Feiglin, dubbed potential kingmaker in Israel’s election, said Tuesday he still believes he would make it into parliament, despite exit polls suggesting his party didn’t pass the 3.25-percent electoral threshold.

"I believe we’re in, and Zehut will be in the next Knesset," he said in a video message.

"Even if we don’t make it, it won’t take long until there will be another election, and we will be there," Feiglin, running for the first time as party leader, said. "We’re running long distances. This is the end of a beginning, not the beginning of the end." Read full story

12:53 A.M. Shas leader Dery says ‘Gantz has no way to form government’

Ultra-Orthodox Shas leader Arye Dery, predicted six to seven seats in exit polls, said Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz "has no way to form a government."

"The only question is whether we form a right-wing government or propose to Gantz to break up his artificial partnership with [Yesh Atid Chairman Yair] Lapid and come with us," Dery added, referring to Lapid’s stances on ultra-Orthodox Jews, seen by Haredi politicians as a deal breaker in any negotiations to join a Gantz-led coalition.

12:14 A.M. Gantz hails historic day for Israel

Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz told supporters Tuesday overnight he believes he should be the next prime minister, after exit polls suggest his party is either tied or leading over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud. "This is a historic day," Gantz told party activists in Tel Aviv.

"We wish to thank Benjamin Netanyahu for his service for this country, and say that despite our many differences, we will rise above our past disagreements and grudges," Gantz said. "We will respect the voter’s will — the biggest party is the one that should … form the government."

12:09 A.M. Labor chairman says disappointed with exit polls, Netanyahu must go

Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay told supporters he was disappointed with the exit poll results, which predicted his party receiving anywhere between six and eight Knesset seats, adding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "must go." Gabbay vowed to "spearhead the political and social struggle" against Netanyahu, facing potential charges in several corruption cases.

Gabbay also said he spoke with Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz. "I told him we will do everything" necessary to help Gantz form a government, he said.

He also pushed back at criticism from his own party over his leadership, including some calls to resign, saying he will go on leading the Labor Party.

11:41 P.M. If Netanyahu loses this election, he will have no one to blame but himself | Analysis

If the stunning — though conflicting — exit polls Tuesday night prove to reflect the actual results of the Israeli election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be hard-pressed to blame anyone but himself for the somewhat disappointing performance.

By cannibalizing votes from smaller right-wing parties in the hopes of scoring a decisive head-to-head victory against Benny Gantz, Netanyahu recklessly dismissed the possibility that several of them would disappear from the Knesset count — and from his potential government coalition. Read the full analysis here (Allison Kaplan Sommer)

11:32 P.M. Labor lawmaker calls on party leader to resign

Prominent Labor MK Eitan Cabel has called on Chairman Avi Gabbay to resign, following the party’s poor showing in Israel’s election.

"Tonight is the most difficult night in the history of my [political] home," he said. "The Labor Party, which established this country, crashed in all exit polls and gets its worst-ever result." This failure, Cabel argues, is Gabbay’s fault "and his alone."

11:32 P.M. Likud ministers say Netanyahu is next prime minister

Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel says "it is clear beyond any doubt that the Likud party has regained the public’s trust. The Israeli people appreciates what we do for the benefit of the country and wants Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister for four more years."

Another Likud minister, Gilad Erdan, tweeted that "according to the preliminary results, the national camp has won and the right-wing bloc will be able to form the next government." He added a Likud-led government "represents the will of the majority of the public, and not a large party that made Labor crash," referring to Gantz’s Kahol Lavan.

11:25 P.M. Kahlon won’t commit to backing Netanyahu as prime minister

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon told Kulanu supporters that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called him after exit polls, predicting him four to five Knesset seats. "We’ve agreed to meet after final results are published and not a minute sooner."

Kahlon also thanked his supporters, gathered in Tel Aviv, and vowed to "join a government that will continue serving the entire Israeli society."

"This was a tough battle," Kahlon said. "I’ve been in politics for 20 years and there’s never been a campaign like this one."

11:10 P.M. Right, center-left blocs tied, according to updated exit poll

Channel 12 News published an updated exit poll, with only minor changes to its initial poll, published an hour earlier.

According to the updated exit poll, both the right-wing bloc, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party, and the center-left bloc, headed by Benny Gantz and Kahol Lavan, have 60 Knesset seats.

The updated poll predicts both Arab-majority parties Hadash-Ta’al and United Arab List-Balad will get six seats. Channel 12’s initial exit poll predicted Hadash-Ta’al with seven seats and UAL-Balad with five.

10:58 P.M. Union of Right-Wing Parties responds to exit polls

The Union of Right-Wing Parties released a statement, saying: "This evening, above all, it was made clear that we saved the right-wing leadership by uniting with Otzma Yehudit."

"The Zionist religious way won out and proved that it is bigger than any one person. We expect the prime minister to declare in a non-two-faced way that he intends to form a right-wing government, and we see ourselves as senior partners in it," the statement said.

"In the coming hours we will enter into immediate negotiations in order to sum up the principles that will run this government even before we make our recommendation to the president," they added.

Bezalel Smotrich said the Union of Right-Wing Parties will recommend that Netanyahu receive immunity in the face of the criminal charges against him. "The deliberations and hearings will take a long time. Right now we are facing forward: Building a right-wing government is dependent on the immunity law that I spoke about a few weeks ago — it’s necessary to build trust among all the Knesset members that we will be able to build this coalition for the whole term. I’m calling on all the right-wing parties to join and support this effort."

10:55 P.M. Avigdor Lieberman: surveys are ‘psychological weapons’ 

Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman said he is “happy this battle is over, but it is still early to summarize or produce takeaways.” He added that the gaps between parties are too large and the bigger picture too unclear to draw conclusions, and “as someone who walked around all day in the field and saw how the exit polls were conducted, there is a non-negligible gap between the exit polls and the real voting results.” In addition, he accused pollsters of “manipulation and psychological warfare,” turning the surveys into “psychological weapons of war.”  

10:50 P.M. Shas to recommend Netanyahu for forming government

Shas Chairman Arye Dery has spoken with Netnayahu and told him the party will recommend to the president that Likud form the next government.

10:48 P.M. Arab party leaders respond to exit polls

United Arab List-Balad Chairman Dr. Mansour Abbas: “We are certain that we will pass the electoral threshold; according to our data, the voter turnout in the Arab sector was above 50 percent… We should not forget that the exit polls ended at 8 P.M., so in the last two hours, there was a significant rise in the percentage of voters and support for the two Arab slates.”

Dr. Mtanes Shehadeh, number two on the UAL-Balad slate, also expressed certainty that the party will enter Knesset, saying that exit polls have no true value. But, he added, “There is no doubt that after the results are in, the two [Arab] slates need to have a meeting and consider in order to win back the Arab public’s trust in the party.

Knesset Member Ayman Odeh, chairman of Hadash-Ta’al, responded by thanking his supporters – “Arab and Jewish democratic citizens, who came out to vote despite the incitement, hate and racist legislation and gave us their trust. Bibi understands this and so do we – there will not be change in this country without the political power of the Arab public.” He remains hopeful that UAL-Balad will join them in the Knesset.

10.45 P.M. Bennett, Shaked address supporters after two of three exit polls show them failing to make threshold

Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked addressed supporters after two out of three exit polls suggest their new Hayamin Hehadash party may not enter the Knesset. "We take care of the soldiers, and you’ll see that the soldiers will take care of us," Bennett said, suggesting that military ballots would ensure the votes needed to pass the voter threshold. He vows that the party will enter the Knesset and urges supporters to be patient.

Shaked says she still has work to do to overhaul the justice system, "and together we will succeed in reaching the goals we wanted, even if it takes longer, we are not giving up and we are walking on a long road. I know we will succeed."

10:32 P.M. Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg responds to exit polls

Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg told followers gathered at the Tzavta theater in Tel Aviv, "I’m late because I’m coming from Kafr Qassem. I arrived there at 8 P.M., and we decided to leave everything and head there to bolster the Arab voter turnout, after the attempts at voter suppression that took place there today."

"Israeli politics has not succeeded in doing what Meretz does: Gives real hope and the message that all citizens of the country are equal," Zandberg said. "If there is one thing that is already clear – and nothing is completely clear at this point – If Israeli politics does not relate to all the citizens of the country equally, it has no hope and it has no future. The only future lies in participation, equality and justice."

Zandberg’s speech was met with loud applause as Meretz flags were waved throughout the auditorium. "This was a hard election campaign; I don’t remember an election that was this hard. The fact that we don’t know what the results will be is part of the challenge and part of the difficulty," she added.

10:25 P.M. United Torah Judaism responds to exit polls

United Torah Judaism said that Yaakov Litzman, head of the party, is currently speaking with Netanyahu. Litzman told Netanyahu that United Torah Judaism will recommend him for prime minister.

10:23 P.M. Hayamin Hehadash’s Naftali Bennett responds to exit polls

Naftali Bennett, education minister and co-chair of Hayamin Hehadash, responded to the poll results: “Friends, don’t lose your spirit. Leadership is challenged in difficult moments. We have patience, faith, and nerves of steel. Hayamin Hehadash will pass [the electoral threshold], and will pass it well. We are sure that our way is just.”

He thanked supporters, and said that he and Ayelet Shaked, the justice minister and party co-chair, will meet with supporters at Hayamin Hehadash headquarters. Hayamin Hehadash only cleared the electoral threshold in one of the three exit polls. 

10:21 P.M. Netanyahu claims victory

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims victory, minutes after Benny Gantz did the same. "The right-wing bloc led by Likud won a clear victory," Netanyahu writes on Twitter. "I thank the citizens of Israel for their faith. I will begin forming a right-wing party with our natural partners tonight already." (Jonathan Lis)

10:06 P.M. Gantz claims victory

Kahol Lavan co-leader Benny Gantz claims victory after the release of exit polls, which have been contradictory. "We won!" Gantz said. "The Israeli people have spoken. Thank you to the thousands of activists and over a million voters. In these elections, there is a clear winner and a clear loser. Bibi promised 40 seats and lost, big time." (Jonathan Lis)

10 P.M. Contradictory exit polls: Gantz and Netanyahu tied ■ No clear path to premiership for either ■ Follow Haaretz’s live updates as drama unfolds

TV channels have released their exit polls. 

Channel 12 News has the center-left and right-wing blocs with 60 seats each – a tie. The channel’s exit polls also have Kahol Lavan with 37 seats to Likud’s 33. 

Channel 13 has the right-wing bloc with 66 seats to the center-left’s 54, and Kahol Lavan and Likud with 36 seats each. 

The Kan public broadcaster has the right-wing bloc with 64 seats and the center-left with 56, and Kahol Lavan with 37 seats to Likud’s 36. 

The fates of several smaller parties appear to be up in the air, although all three channels have Zehut failing to meet the electoral threshold. In Kan’s exit polls, Gesher, United Arab List-Balad, Zehut and Hayamin Hehadash failing to make it into the Knesset. Channel 12 has Gesher, Zehut and Hayamin Hehadash failing to pass. Channel 13 has Gesher, UAL-Balad, and Zehut falling short. 

9:15 P.M. Turnout at 61.3% as of 8 P.M., down from 2015

Voter turnout stands at 61.3 percent, or 3,884,636 voters, as of 8 P.M. — down from 62.4 percent in 2015.

9:05 P.M. Meretz lawmakers visit Kafr Qasem amid reports of low Arab turnout

Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg and lawmaker Esawi Freige are in Kafr Qasem following widespread reports of historically low turnout among Arab voters. "It’s not over till it’s over," Freige says. "I believe that the Arab citizen knows that it is his duty to go out and vote — and yes, the young people are doing it, and doing it with pride." (Noa Landau)

8:54 P.M. Meretz requests leaving polls open late over hidden cameras

Meretz has petitioned the Central Elections Committee with a request to keep polls open for an extra hour, until 11 P.M., over the use of hidden cameras at polling stations, which the party says was a deliberate attempt at suppressing the Arab vote. (Noa Landau)

8:50 P.M. Arab parties report 44% turnout among Arabs

Following widespread reports of extremely low turnout among the Arab community, the Arab parties say the turnout stands at 44 percent, an hour before polls close. (Jack Khoury)