The Sanctity of Voting: A Jewish Analogy for “Secrecy Sleeves”

October 21, 2020Sarah Blaine

According to the National Council of State Legislatures, voters in the following states need to use an inner “secrecy sleeve” when voting with a vote-by-mail ballot: Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia. In some other states this is a county-by-county decision.

The NCSL explains:

“A secrecy sleeve – sometimes known as a privacy sleeve, inner envelope or identification envelope – is a paper document intended to protect voters’ privacy by separating their identity and signature from their ballot. After completing a mail or absentee ballot, a voter places it inside the secrecy sleeve, which then goes inside the return envelope.”

As the RAC-NJ lead organizer, I’ve been working with our congregations’ leaders to help organize our New Jersey congregations to become 100 percent voting congregations as part of Every Voice, Every Vote: The Reform Movement’s 2020 Civic Engagement Campaign.

New Jersey reworked its election system for 2020 due to the pandemic. As a result of our state’s changes, all New Jersey voters are voting via paper ballot this election, unless a voter needs an ADA-compliant voting device to cast a ballot secretly and securely. As we built our RAC-NJ “Safeguarding Our Votes” Zoom seminars to teach our New Jersey voters how and why our paper ballots work the way they do, we asked ourselves…

How can we explain the purpose of the secrecy sleeve and its importance in casting our vote in a way that will both make sense and be memorable? We decided to think of it this way: we understand voting as a sacred act. The ballot is an object of empowerment that ensures that our voices are heard.

Just as the Torah is at the center of Judaism, the ballot is at the core of our democracy.

We would not dream of returning the Torah to the Ark without first dressing it.

It helps, then, to think of the outer envelope as the ark and the inner security envelope as our ballot’s Torah cover.

Just as we would not return a Torah scroll to the ark without first covering it, in those 16 states, including New Jersey, we need to remember not to put our ballots into the outer envelope without first “dressing them” inside the inner envelope – the secrecy sleeve.

Whether I use a secure ballot drop box or the U.S. mail, I need to make sure to include all three parts: the completed ballot, which I place inside the completed inner security sleeve, which I then place inside the outer mailing envelope.

On Zoom call after Zoom call, as our RAC-NJ leaders have shared this analogy, our congregants have invariably smiled wide. I believe this analogy resonates because throughout our Reform Jewish community, we value voting as a sacred act.

For additional information about the Reform Jewish Movement’s civic engagement work and what you can do this year, see “It's Election Season: 7 Key Actions to Take Between Now and Nov. 3rd” and the Religious Action Center's Election Protection 2020 Toolkit.

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