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Saturday, June 25 marks the third anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case Shelby County v. Holder. With a 5-4 vote, the Court struck down a crucial component of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, opening the door for states and localities with a history of restrictive voting practices to change their election laws, without first seeking preclearance from the federal government.
The Shelby decision has had a direct impact on the ability of Americans across the country to exercise their democratic rights. In the immediate aftermath of the ruling, North Carolina passed an elections overhaul bill that added a strict photo ID requirement to vote, reduced early voting, eliminated same-day registration, and banned pre-registration for high-school students, among other provisions. This year, officials in Maricopa County, Arizona, shut down 140 of the normal 200 polling sites for the 2016 primary election, forcing thousands of prospective voters to wait hours in line to cast their ballots. Both North Carolina and Arizona had been subject to preclearance under the pre-Shelby Voting Rights Act.
In all, 17 states will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election this year. And, these restrictions tend to disproportionately impede access to the ballot for people of color, people with disabilities, the elderly, and students.
The present struggle to protect voting rights challenges us specifically as Reform Jews because it is deeply connected to Jewish history, texts, and values. We have known the pain of disenfranchisement throughout the centuries. Rabbi Yitzhak taught: “A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted” (Babylonian Talmud Berachot 55a). Hillel reminded us “Al tifros min hatzibur, Do not separate yourself from the community” (Pirke Avot 2:5). All Americans should have an equal right to participate in our national community including by having a voice in the selection of elected officials. We have an obligation to speak out against the worrying trend of efforts to limit who is able to participate in our democracy.
As the Shelby anniversary falls on Shabbat this year, we have a unique opportunity to leverage the power of our Reform Jewish communities to raise awareness about the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision, and to highlight the urgent need for Congress to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act (S. 1659/H.R. 2867), a bill that would restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act. Below are just a few ways to get your congregation involved in work to advance voting rights on and around the anniversary. Please complete this form to let us know how you will be commemorating the Shelby anniversary.
As we near the first presidential election since the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act, it is more important than ever that we act to protect the voting rights of all Americans. Join the Reform Movement and the wider civil rights community as we call on Congress to delay no longer in passing the Voting Rights Advancement Act. And don’t forget to let us know how you will be taking action around the third anniversary of the Shelby decision by completing this form.