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Stopping Voter Suppression

Stopping Voter Suppression

Rabbi Guttman at Board of Elections in Guilford County, NC

Commissioners on the Board of Elections in Guilford Country, NC proposed to cut by nearly half the number of early voting sites, including many inside Greensboro and one that primarily serves African- Americans; to completely eliminate Sunday voting, which is used primarily by low-income communities and communities of color, many of whom have difficulty getting time off from work to vote on the regular day; and to cut out the popular sites at UNC-Greensboro and NC A&T in order that fewer students will vote.

These problematic changes to the voting rules was met by some 400 people who came to the meeting. Before the meeting, clergy, including myself, approached the Board Chair and asked for a public comment period. Our request was refused. I then told the Board Chair that many people were concerned about what was being proposed and that their concerns need to be heard. She accused me of grandstand politicking. At that moment, several of us determined that if we were not allowed to speak, we would listen for a short while and then we would shut down the meeting! 

The proposal to curtail early voting was presented and then justified by saying that the number of hours of early voting would be the same as it was in the past, even though all of the things mentioned above would be implemented. 

Eight minutes into the meeting, as the initial proposal to limit early voting was being defended, the crowd began to shout and sing.

The police in the room started trying to move those of us who had approached the podium with our demands. Meanwhile, the three members of the Board of Elections huddled with staff and basically came up with a "compromise" proposal which reinstituted everything from 2012, except for the fact that there would only be one instead of two days of Sunday voting.  We had achieved 90% of our demands!

At the end of July, North Carolina's 2013 voting law, the most restrictive state voting law passed since the Supreme Court overturned parts of the Voting Rights Act, was struck down. The court ruled that the requirement of a photo identification card was enacted "with racially discriminatory intent."

Many feel that the actions of the Board of Election were an attempt to achieve similar results as the 2013 law. We understand that there are similar proposals before the Boards of Elections in other counties in North Carolina.

In my opinion, enough is enough!  If we do not stand up for the right of people to vote, then what do we really stand for?

In Deuteronomy we read, “Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem (You stand this day, all of you), before the Eternal, your God – you tribal heads, you elders, and you officials, all of the men of Israel, you children, you women, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer – to enter into the covenant of the Eternal your God” (Deuteronomy 29:9-11).

What does “all of you” really mean?

At that transitional moment for the Jewish people more than 3,000 years ago, all people were considered to be important. Let us hope that, in the coming election, we will affirm that all should have the ability to vote.

The Israelites crossed the river with “kulchem,” “all of us!” On November 8, 2016, as we exercise a fundamental right of citizenship, may we do so with confidence that all who wanted to vote were able to do so.

 

On August 18, 2016, the Reform Movement, alongside the NAACP, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the PICO National Network and other partners, is launching Nitzavim: Standing Up for Voter Protection and Participation in North Carolina. The Hebrew word, nitzavim, literally means “standing.” It also hearkens back to one of the most memorable sections of Moses’ final speech to the Israelites as cited above (Deuteronomy 29:9-11). These words remind us that Judaism envisions a world where all are valued, not just those with power or privilege. Learn more about this initiative and how to get involved at rac.org/nitzavim.

Stream our Kickoff Event – Standing with Love, Standing for the Right to Vote – on Thursday, August 18 from 7 to 9 PM Eastern. Click here to access this event’s livestream, which will go live shortly before 7.

 

Rabbi Fred Guttman is the senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, N.C. He is a dual citizen of the United States and Israel and served in an Israel combat unit in the 1980s.

Rabbi Fred Guttman

Published: 8/18/2016