The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
The Iowa and New Hampshire caucuses earlier this month marked the official start of the 2016 election cycle. Over the coming months, millions of Americans will take to the polls to exercise their constitutional right to determine who represents them at all levels of government.
In many parts of the country, new voter technologies and advancements will make it easier to vote than ever before. At least 29 states and the District of Columbia will offer online voter registration this year. The California state government approved an automatic voter registration system late in 2015, which will hopefully be in place in time for the 2016 general election. These and other reforms expand access to the ballot and strengthen our democracy.
At the same time, there are grave concerns about ongoing efforts to change voting laws around the United States in ways that suppress the vote, particularly for racial and ethnic minorities and for non-English speakers. 2016 marks the first presidential election since the Supreme Court struck down key components of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in its 2013 ruling in Shelby v. Holder. Largely a result of the Shelby decision, 16 states will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election. These restrictions include photo ID requirements to vote, cuts to early registration and voting as well as a requirement to provide documentary proof of citizenship during voter registration.
Faced with these attempts to block the vote, we as Reform Jews are reminded of the teachings of our sages about the importance of having a say in governance. Rabbi Yitzhak, for example, taught that “A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted” (Babylonian Talmud Berachot 55a). Voting restrictions violate this principle by systematically preventing certain communities in our country from being properly consulted.
Thus, Reform congregations can and should play a major role in ensuring that all Americans are given equal opportunity to vote. One way to do so is through advocacy. At the national level, we must call on Congress to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act (S. 1659/H.R. 2867) to restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Congregations can also get involved in voter engagement and Get Out the Vote (GOTV) activities in their local communities, so long as these activities are strictly nonpartisan. Here are just a few examples of impactful GOTV programs that can be implemented in your congregation:
Additional information about how to plan and carry out these and other voter engagement programs can be found in the RAC’s Get Out the Vote guide. Please contact me if you have questions about specific GOTV efforts. Hope to see you at the polls!