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October 21, 2014 | 27th Tishrei 5775

Right To Vote


Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism
April 2008


The right to vote has been undermined in recent years by state legislatures whose attempts to prevent voter fraud have, instead, created a national controversy over the disenfranchising effects of electronic voting machines and voter identification laws. The Reform Movement has long supported the equality of rights of all Americans, especially concerning the right to vote. It is, therefore, a disturbing trend to see state laws that have the effect of establishing new barriers – often felt most keenly by minority and low-income communities – to casting verifiable votes.

Voter identification requirements that place a substantial and onerous burden on the voter have statistically proven to disproportionately suppress low-income, elderly, student, disabled, female and racial minority voters. The most restrictive forms of identification are photo IDs, particularly government issued photo IDs. Obtaining a state-issued photo ID that accurately reflects an individual’s current name and address can be costly and time consuming. Of all persons lacking up-to-date photo IDs, 70% are women[1] and 53% are either under the age of 24 or above the age of 65[2] . Some states do not provide no-cost IDs, even non-driver license IDs, and no state covers the costs associated with acquiring the primary documents necessary to be issued a government ID. Birth certificates, for example, can cost as much as $30. Further, requiring individuals to travel to a state agency to obtain a photo ID may take multiple hours out of a work or school day resulting in lost pay or missed classes. The myriad costs and challenges associated with requiring a government issued photo ID of voters at the polls prevents thousands of otherwise eligible voters from casting a ballot.

The 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) outlines many reliable voter identification options including electricity bills, bank statements, paychecks, employee and students IDs, etc. Allowing flexible options for voter verification helps avoid the disenfranchising effects of burdensome and discriminatory laws requiring government issued photo ID (photo ID only laws); states should maintain HAVA forms of identification as suitable substitutes for all voters.

The 2000 Florida election involving faulty voting machines, long lines at minority community polling places, and machine and human recount errors exposed the need for verifiable election ballots in every precinct nationwide. Though eight years have passed since these failures, subsequent elections have only demonstrated the continued existence of these problems on state and national levels. There is now, more than ever, an urgent need to address access to secure electronic voting machines that produce a “paper trail” of individual votes. Voter-verified paper trails produced by electronic voting machines would allow for votes to be quickly tallied while simultaneously providing voters with the ability to review their individual, anonymous, paper ballot and providing a tangible record of votes as a backup system in cases of technological failure.

The Union for Reform Judaism’s December, 2001 resolution demands free and unfettered elections as a civil and equal rights imperative. It calls on our nation to provide reliable methods of voting, to count all valid ballots accurately, and to ease voter registration and election burdens, including same-day voter registration policies.

Our Jewish values mandate the pursuit of equality for all citizens regardless of socio-economic status, race, gender, age or ability. Exodus 12:49 states that “you shall have one law for the neighbor and stranger alike.” This principle reminds us of the imperative to engage in the civic life of our nation, and to ensure that all have access, and equal access, to the levers of power.

Therefore, the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism Resolves to:

1. Reaffirm its December, 2001 call on the local, state, and federal governments to provide voting systems that are reliable, secure and accurately reflect the will of the voting public;

2. Oppose photo identification only laws because they have the effect of disenfranchising eligible voters particularly suppressing low-income, elderly, student, disabled, female and racial minority voters;

3. Support anonymous voter-verified paper trails for electronic voting machines;

4. Urge Congress and the administration to work with local governments to refinance reliable voting systems, including thorough training of all poll workers in the state;

5. Call on congregations and individuals to work within their own states to pursue state level reforms that reflect the goals of this resolution; and

6. Encourage members of URJ congregations to volunteer as poll workers.

[1] US Census Bureau Detailed Tables. “Sex by Age Total Population.” July 24, 2006. Federal Highway Administration. “Licensed drivers, by State, sex, and age group.” July 24, 2006.

[2]Citizens Without Proof, A Survey of Americans Possession of Documentary Proof of Citizenship and Photo Documentation.” Brennan Center for Justice, New York School of Law. Nov 2006.

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