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Guided by Faith to Vote Yes on 4

Guided by Faith to Vote Yes on 4

Letters urging voters to vote YES on Florida Amendment 4

The writer and Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel once said that the greatest gift God gave humans was not the ability to begin, but the ability to begin again. Every religion teaches that forgiveness and redemption are possible, and the Jewish tradition is no different. As Jews, we believe in repentance (teshuvah) and self-improvement. We refuse to define people by their worst moment. And this is why we support Amendment 4, which will restore voting eligibility to Florida’s formerly incarcerated returning citizens. 

Today, there are 1.4 million Floridians who have no voice in the democratic process because of Florida’s unusually cruel law that anyone who has ever been convicted of a felony is barred from voting for the rest of their life. Currently, Florida is one of only four states in the nation that does not restore the right to vote to returning citizens who have completed their sentences and paid their debt to society. (Amendment 4 will not return voting rights to those convicted of murder and sexual assault).

As Jews, we know what it’s like when a government strips us of our citizenship and tells us that our voices do not count. And as Jews, we support Amendment 4 because it overturns a history of exclusion and racism that has created a system in which one in five Black Floridians are ineligible to vote. It is hard not to see the existing provision as an effective way to keep Black Americans out of the democratic process – and thus far away from swaying the outcome of an election. 

After the Civil War, Florida tried to block the 14th Amendment which gave Blacks the right to vote in America. When that failed, it established road blocks to voter registration, including the ban on convicted felons - a provision that has not been updated since the 1860s. We know that other serious roadblocks to voter registration will still exist if Amendment 4 is passed, and we are committed to continuing our work to ensure access to the democratic system for all in the years to come. 

Being people of faith means that we believe in restoration and renewal. We believe because we have seen it. We have seen people turn their lives around, overcoming bad habits and unforeseen tragedies. Yet in the current system, disenfranchised voters are permanently marginalized and held down. They do not have a way to restore their place in society. The Hebrew prophets teach that we should care for everyone in our society, and especially those who have been marginalized, whether due to income, background or circumstance. 

When we vote Yes on Amendment 4 in November, we will affirm that our legal system cannot be rigged against those who, often because of factors they cannot control, end up in the wrong crowd or make a mistake. We will show that we believe in forgiveness and in people’s ability to change. And we will show that democracy is for everyone.

Rabbi Ethan Bair is Associate Rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom, Miami Beach and leads the congregation’s social justice engagement.
Rabbi Gayle Pomerantz is Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom, Miami Beach.
Nancy Ratzan is past president of the National Council of Jewish Women and policy chair on the national board of Common Cause.

Published: 11/05/2018