This Is How We Safeguard Our Democracy

October 7, 2019Ali Rosenblatt

As the Voting Rights Act turns 54 this year, we lament the sixth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision, which has made voting more difficult, especially for poor people, people of color, and the elderly. As we look ahead to the 2020 general election, we must continue the fight for our fundamental right and embrace our civic duty to vote. Let us reaffirm the values backed in the Voting Rights Act, which was drafted in 1965 in the library of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (“the RAC”).

The Voting Rights Act helped block laws that deny citizens the right to vote based on race and enacted federal voting protections, especially in states with a history of discrimination in voting. But the 2013 Shelby 5-4 Court decision invalidated this crucial part of the law. In a statement, then-RAC director Rabbi David Saperstein expressed the RAC's deep disappointment that the decision, “effectively overturns the nation’s longstanding commitment to protecting the voting rights of all citizens.” The fear of this ruling’s impact became reality immediately and forcefully.

Just 24 hours after the release of the Shelby decision, Texas announced a plan to implement a strict photo ID requirement for voting. Since then, 21 states enacted new restrictive voting requirements and across 13 states, 1,688 polling sites have closed, which overwhelmingly impacts communities of color. The advocacy community fought back from the start, and courts have found intentional discrimination in at least 10 voting rights decisions since Shelby.

A legislative fix has been on the table since 2014, and the Reform Movement has supported the Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA) since it was first introduced. Reintroduced in the 116th Congress as H.R. 4 and S. 561, the VRAA would help prevent voter discrimination and increase transparency, restoring the original goal of the VRA to protect voters and their fundamental right. To get the VRAA enacted and to pass the kind of policies we support, we must vote. Toward that end, we have increased efforts to ensure that voters understand the importance of registering to vote, voting, and organizing around issues in our communities with the Brit Olam cohorts.

We are guided in these endeavors by this teaching: “You shall not hide yourself” (Deuteronomy 22:3), which Rashi interprets as “You must not cover your eyes, pretending not to see.” The Reform Movement will not hide, nor cover our eyes; rather, we will look at injustice around us and respond as engaged citizens, taking on the responsibility to participate in our democracy.

Within our own communities, the RAC has worked to ensure that every congregation and every vote counts. More than a year ago, we revamped an organization-wide voter engagement campaign in advance of the 2018 midterm elections, engaging more than 120,000 Americans and registering over 4,000 people to vote. Looking ahead to 2020, we again hope to use our civic engagement campaign to mobilize as many voters as possible to register, pledge to vote, and show up at the polls on election day.

We are eager to join our partners at the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, co-chaired by Revs. William J. Barber II and Liz Theoharis, who recently launched a nationwide campaign to engage voters. The “We Must Do M.O.R.E.” tour, is a nine-month-long and 20-plus state direct campaign that seeks to Mobilize, Organize, Register, and Educate people who will vote.

Here are four ways you can work with us to safeguard our democracy by restoring and embracing the vote:

  1. Write to your Congressional representatives, urging them to support the Voting Rights Advancement Act.
  2. Follow the House Judiciary Committee Hearings.
  3. Find an event near you to help the Poor People’s Campaign “Do M.O.R.E.”
  4. Register to vote and encourage others to do the same.

Learn more about the Reform Jewish community's work on voting rights issues by visiting the Religious Action Center's Voting and Election page.

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