Disenfranchised

letter-447577_1280

From the Jewish Council for Public Affairs:

January 19th is one of the most important contests in the Democratic and Republican quests for their parties’ nomination for the presidency. It is also Shabbat.

This year, the Nevada Democratic and Republican parties have decided to hold their primary caucuses on a Saturday, with citizens required to report by 11:30 and 9:00 AM respectively, right during morning religious services. When I called the political parties in Nevada to inquire as to whether or not there were measures being taken to help accommodate those observant Jews who wished to participate in the caucuses, I received mixed results… Neither had an adequate answer as to why the caucuses had to take place on a Shabbat morning.

Nevada has one of the fastest growing Jewish populations in the country, and its 65,000-80,000 Jewish community members are expected to have a disproportionate impact on the results. I do not know how many of these Jews are observant enough to be effectively barred from participating in the caucus. I do not know how many of these Jews will be pushed into the uncomfortable position of choosing between attending synagogue and participating in a cherished American civic tradition. I DO know that it is highly unlikely that the state’s political parties would choose to hold these caucuses on a Sunday morning during church services.

Because of the need to caucus during a pre-designated and inflexible time, this form of primary contest inevitably will leave out large swaths of potential voters… However, there are two elements of Nevada’s political parties’ decision to hold the caucus on Shabbat that make it especially disturbing: the fact that it is entirely avoidable (the caucuses could have easily been held on a weeknight or even after Shabbat ended), and the fact that it categorically excludes an entire group of people based on their religious identity…

Nevada’s observant Jews will be asked to make a false choice between practicing their Judaism and participating in a defining American moment. To all Americans, not just American Jews, this should be seen as a disappointment.

While I agree it is obvious that they wouldn’t caucus on Sunday morning, the number of observant Jews (and, for that matter, Seventh-Day Adventists) in the state of Nevada makes it likely that organizers were either entirely unaware or considered the numbers insignificant. Nonetheless, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, says it best: “In a country that values religious liberty, no person should ever be forced to choose between practicing their religion and participating in their democracy. America is the most religiously diverse nation in the world, and the political process should be open to all on equal terms.”

Let’s not forget how fortunate we are that in America, others consider the disenfranchisement of religious Jews to be such a serious matter.

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13 Responses

  1. Larry Lennhoff says:

    I confess to regarding this whole issue as a tempest in a teapot. Nevada is a very unusual state – a significant percentage of its people work in the entertainment industries in Las Vegas and Carson City. Given how many people work nights and weekends, a Saturday morning caucus makes sense to me. The question is whether more politically active people are unable to attend a Saturday morning caucus than one on a weeknight, Sunday morning, or Saturday morning.

    I have seen exactly one comment from a Jewish Nevada resident, and he was planning on attending the caucuses. Has anyone seen a comment from a Nevada Jew who said “If the caucus wasn’t on Shabbat I would have attended it”? If not, then I say ‘no harm, no foul’.

  2. Charles B. Hall says:

    One more point regarding accomodation of religious voters: September 11, 2001 was primary election day in New York City. The election was cancelled; normally it would have been rescheduled for the following Tuesday but that day was Rosh HaShanah. Instead, the election was held on Thursday, September 20.

  3. Charles B. Hall says:

    Ori,

    IIRC I had to sign a pledge to support the party’s nominee before participating in a caucus.

    Bob,

    I don’t think it is practical for the states that don’t have party registration to re-register everybody by party. It would be an enormously expensive undertaking and in today’s tax-adverse America that isn’t a big seller. I strongly suspect that caucuses have much lower participation than primaries although I haven’t personally looked at the numbers; there tend to be far fewer places to attend caucuses than there are primary election polling places. And the question of proportional representation is worthy of a Political Science Dissertation. New York City had PR for its City Council elections for a few years but gave it up a long time ago; AFAIK it and Cambridge are the only places in America that have ever used it. In Israel it clearly gives greater influence to small parties, in particular religious parties — they would probably have fewer than ten MKs under a British or Canadian election-by-district system, rather than the current 28 under national PR.

  4. mycroft says:

    “Can anyone demonstrate that proportional representation anywhere has actually improved government”

    I believe that the editors of CC would not want a discussion of clearly a tangential matter but for starters read the following piece from Wikpedia and see the various countries that have proportional representation and make your own conclusion.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proportional_representation

  5. Bob Miller says:

    Based on “Comment by Charles B. Hall, PhD — January 17, 2008 @ 11:33 am”, it seems that a standard primary closed to non-party members, combined with voter registration by party, would meet the need. The cited Virginia problem that caucuses allegedly solve appears to have been the direct result of that state’s lack of voter registration by party. Isn’t that faulty registration system remediable?

    Can anyone show that, under comparable circumstances, caucuses attract a higher percentage of voters than primaries do?

    Can anyone demonstrate that proportional representation anywhere has actually improved government?

  6. Ori says:

    Charles B. Hall, why are caucuses more resistant to infiltrators? Going to the opposite party’s caucus isn’t that much harder than voting in its primaries – they don’t test you at the door, I assume.

  7. He Who Remembers says:

    When I went to school in the early ’60s we were taught that the Australian (secret) ballot was a great advance for democracy. Yet now, so many decades later, these unfair (especially when held on Shabbos) caucus-based open votes are in position to show great influence in determining the future of the U.S.

  8. Charles B. Hall, PhD says:

    BY, the courts have ruled that political parties have an absolute right under the US Constitution to set their rules as long as no illegal discrimination occurs. And that includes deciding when to hold primary elections or caucuses.

    Bob, I used to be a county committee member in Virginia. There are several reasons why they hold caucuses rather than primaries. One is that they want only people affiliated with the party to determine the nominee. This was a very big deal in states such as Virginia in which people don’t register by party and there is a history of people affiliated with one party voting in the other party’s primary in order to screw up their nominating process. Another is that the Democrats have a “second chance” process so that voters whose first choice candidate falls short of the number of votes needed to have the possibility of a convention delegate can then cast a second choice vote. This is a form of proportional representation that is possible, but unwieldy, in regular elections; the only place I know in the US that today uses such a system is the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts. A third reason is that primary elections cost a lot of money to run; the cost of caucuses has to be born by the party. Nevada is one of the few states still without an income tax and this may be one small reason why they can remain such.

    That said, I think it is absolutely inexcusable for both parties to hold their caucuses on Shabat. They could at least hold them after dark on Saturday night!

  9. Bill Cork says:

    As a Seventh-day Adventist, I appreciate your drawing attention to this.

    I think the issue here is even broader. Because this caucus requires personal appearance, it disenfranchises anyone who is not able to come in person–including many of the elderly, as well as military personnel.

    If Nevada (and other caucus states) were to shift to having primary elections instead, which would allow for early voting and absentee voting, no one would be disenfranchised, whether for religious or any other reasons.

  10. Bob Miller says:

    Because of the time an attendee needs to put in at a caucus, Nevada must have scheduled theirs on a Saturday to get more participation. An ordinary primary or election is more easily held on a normal weekday, with provision for absentees to vote by mail, or at a central location on a different day.

    Other than its gimmick or publicity value, there is no reason to use caucuses in place of traditional party primaries with secret balloting, ideally closed to non-party members.

  11. mycroft says:

    We live in a Chriistian country-the percentage of Christians is much higher than the percentage of Jews in Israel. December 25, January 1 aRE LEGAL HOLIDAYS. aLL PRESIDENTIAL PROCLAMATIONS ARE SIGNED YEAR OF ” “WHICH IS TRUE ONLY FOR CHRISTIANS.

  12. Baruch Pelta says:

    I was under the impression that one could vote through absentee voting instead, no?

  13. BY says:

    And what of voters in Michigan, denied the opportunity to influence the Democratic Party’s choice of nominee because the state violated party rules and advanced its primary too early (in the Party’s opinion)? The Republican party halved Michigan’s delegates for the same violation. Apparently the political parties are not obligated to accommodate people, and it is our job as voters to tell individual candidates our regret that we could not vote for them, as we were in shul.