The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
Taking Hillel’s instruction “Do not separate yourself from the community” to heart (Pirke Avot 2:5), Reform Jews have a long history of active participation in campaigns and elections. But, this level of civic engagement can only be sustained if Reform Jewish communities continue to encourage their members to learn about the issues, register and vote. As the 2016 election approaches, here are three ways for Reform congregations to get out the vote.
Increasing civic participation in your congregation and community can be as simple as helping people navigate through the sometimes complicated process of registering to vote. A successful voter registration drive might entail mailing copies of the National Mail Voter Registration Form to congregation members, or setting up a table with registration forms in the synagogue or a local community center. Representatives from your local Board of Elections can provide information and training for registration drive volunteers.
When planning your registration drive, it is often helpful to concentrate on reaching communities that have historically had comparatively low levels of voter registration and turnout, like students, new citizens, the elderly and people with disabilities.
As houses of worship, synagogues are not permitted to engage in partisan activity. That does not mean, however, that you are not allowed to interact with candidates and learn more about their positions. A candidate forum can be a great way to increase awareness about upcoming elections and motivate your congregants to make informed choices at the ballot box.
If you do decide to hold a candidate forum in your congregation, you must invite all candidates running for a particular office, including minority party candidates. You should ask fair, open-ended questions on a wide range of issues, making sure to not portray certain candidates’ positions as right or wrong. And you should be sure to reiterate that the candidates’ remarks do not represent the views of the congregation.
For more information about hosting a candidate forum in a non-profit setting, check out this great resource from the Nonprofit Voter Engagement Network.
You can also choose to hold a program designed to educate your congregants about an issue of importance to the Reform Movement and to encourage them to get to the polls in November to weigh in on the issue. Once you choose an issue on which to focus, you should identify outside experts who can speak to all sides of the issue, ensuring that the discussion is fair and balanced. A rabbi or lay leader may introduce the event and the speakers, but should take care not to endorse a particular policy position or candidate.
For more information about these and other Get Out the Vote programs, visit the RAC’s Get Out the Vote Guide. And, be sure to check out our Congregational Dos and Don’ts for the Election Season.