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Protecting the Right to Vote

Protecting the Right to Vote

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  -Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1965, change was in the air.  At the height of the American civil rights movement, African-American leaders were working to eliminate the barriers that prevented minorities from exercising their 15th Amendment rights to vote.  The new amendment, known as the Voting Rights Act (VRA), was successfully signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson that year.

Almost fifty years later, these rights were thrown into jeopardy by a 2013 Supreme Court ruling, Shelby v. Holder..  Section 4 of the VRA, which required that any changes to voting laws must be pre-cleared by the federal government as to avoid discrimination, was struck down and today’s civil rights advocates reacted with outrage.http://www.naacp.org/news/entry/naacp-rallies-to-protect-the-voting-rights-act

A country is a democracy when all of its citizens have the right to choose their leaders by participating in elections, and the privilege to make their voices heard.  Voting is the most accessible form of civic engagement, and perhaps even the most important.

Participating in one’s community is not just an American value, but a Jewish value as well.  In the Talmud, Rabbi Yitzhak taught that “A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted”.

One Jewish proverb (“Mitzvah goreret mitzvah” and its complement, “averah goreret averah“) teaches us that our actions and ways of thinking have consequences and ultimately make a larger impact.  Just as good deeds (mitzvot) lead to more good deeds, one bad deed (averah) can lead to another.

This philosophy is true for the issue of voting rights.  One bad choice – eliminating the protections of the VRA – could reopen the door for detrimental changes that lead to the same discrimination that the 15th Amendment fought.  At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the one-year anniversary of the 2013 VRA decision, Rev. Francys Johnson of the Georgia NAACP spoke of the discriminatory poll taxes that left many impoverished African-Americans unable to vote in his state.  Other districts subjected African-Americans to a humiliating “literacy” test in order to vote – a test that very few of us could actually pass.

These hurdles do not exist anymore, and we, as citizens of America, must make sure that it remains this way.  As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in her dissent last year, overturning Section 4 of the VRA is equivalent to “throwing your umbrella away in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet”. Let’s make sure no that no one is stuck out in the rain, and let’s pass the Voting Rights Amendments Act.

Rachel Hirschhaut is a rising senior at Brandeis University, where she studies English and journalism.  She is a member of North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, IL, and was a Machon Kaplan intern at the NAACP Washington Bureau.