How to Join the Fight for Voting Rights This Summer

Inside Leadership

How to Join the Fight for Voting Rights This Summer

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.

  • Deliver a sermon about the Shelby decision and the Voting Rights Act. The RAC has prepared a sermon-starters resource with information about the decision, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, connections to the week’s parashah, and other relevant Jewish texts and teachings. For more information about the RAC’s work on voting rights, visit our Voting and Elections page.
  • Encourage others in your community and congregation to complete the RAC’s action alert on the Voting Rights Advancement Act. You can also contact senators and representatives by phone to urge them to support restoring the Voting Rights Act. The line for the Capitol switchboard is (202) 224-3121.
  • Share the RAC’s voting rights graphics and action alert on social media. The RAC has put together shareable social media graphics that you can tweet out or post on Facebook in the week leading up to the Shelby anniversary. Be sure to include the link to the Voting Rights Advancement Act action alert in your post.
  • Host a non-partisan voter engagement event in your congregation. One of the most effective ways to counter efforts to restrict access to the vote is to help members of your community register and educate themselves about the issues. Around the Shelby decision, consider hosting a voter registration drive, candidate forum or issue night at your synagogue or in your community. To learn more about how to organize these programs, check out the RAC’s 2016 Get Out the Vote Guide or contact Legislative Assistant Adam Waters.

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.

Have something to say about this post? Join the conversation in The Tent, the social network for congregational leaders of the Reform Movement. You can also tweet us or tell us how you feel on Facebook.

Barbara Weinstein is the associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, where she directs legislative policy. She is also the director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism.

 

Barbara Weinstein
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