Resolution on Voting Rights in the United States of America

Whereas many of our Jewish sages stress the importance of a community in which the people have a voice in the selection of their leaders as Hillel taught in Pirke Avot (2:5) “Do not separate yourself from the community” and as the Talmud further teaches in the name of Rabbi Yitzhak: “A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted” (Babylonian Talmud Berachot 55a) and

Whereas Jewish historical experiences throughout the centuries as an often-persecuted minority subjected to the whims of unaccountable leaders also instilled in American Jewry an appreciation for the value of free elections as protected by the United States Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment and

Whereas Jewish Americans, including many members of the Rabbinical Assembly, were active participants in the civil and voting rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s and instrumental in the enactment of the 1965 Voting Rights Act which sought to overturn decades of discrimination and intimidation at the ballot box and

Whereas the Voting Rights Act has been reauthorized four times, each time with bipartisan support in Congress;

Whereas the Voting Rights Act was severely weakened by the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, striking down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act that contained a formula determining which jurisdictions with a history of disenfranchisement needed preclearance from the Department of Justice before making changes to voting laws or procedures and

Whereas following the Shelby ruling multiple states, including those monitored under the Voting Rights Act, quickly enacted laws and policies that restricted the right to vote through purging voters from the rolls, placing limits on early voting, enacting poll closures and shortening hours for voting and registration and

Whereas voter identification laws have caused particular challenges such as acceptable forms of identification which can be prohibitively costly and difficult for individuals to obtain, particularly for older individuals and immigrants who often do not have birth certificates or other official documents and

Whereas a 2014 national study found just 31 possible cases of voter identification fraud out of one billion votes cast between 2000 and 2014 thus exposing charges of rampant voter fraud among certain voter ID advocates as senseless fear mongering and

Whereas these new voting laws often disproportionately and negatively impact both poor communities and those of color and

Whereas, until Florida voters recently approved Voting Restoration Amendment (Amendment 4) restoring voting rights to Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation, a widespread practice nationwide has been to deny voting rights to citizens with felony convictions even after completing their sentences, thus denying the franchise to millions of Americans, including one out of thirteen African American adults nationwide,  

Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved that the Rabbinical Assembly affirm the essential nature of the right to vote for all eligible Americans regardless of race, gender, sex, national origin, religion, disability, or political affiliation, that inclusive voting rights are fundamental to democracy and that every citizen disenfranchised is a step away from democracy, and

Be It Further Resolved that the Rabbinical Assembly:

  • Call on Congress to adopt legislation such as the Voting Rights Advancement Act to:

    • Modernize the Voting Rights Act’s pre-clearance formula and

    • Provide federal regulation and oversight of election administration to achieve consistency across states and districts

    • Protect voters from the types of voting changes likely to deter people from voting, including those most likely to discriminate against people of color and language minorities;

  • Call on state legislatures to:

    • Remove restrictive barriers to voting by measures such as instituting internet voter registration, early voting and no-reason absentee voting, and to prohibit local clerks from removing voters from the poll books except upon actual knowledge that the voter has moved to another jurisdiction or is deceased.

    • Eliminate unnecessarily burdensome voter photo ID laws, which are barriers to the ballot box and disproportionately impact our most vulnerable citizens without evidenced reduction in voter fraud;

    • Follow the lead of the citizens of Florida in adopting Amendment 4 to reinstate voter enfranchisement for citizens returning from felony convictions after they have completed the terms of their sentences.

  • Promote measures to assist all eligible voters in obtaining necessary identification in places where photo identification is required for voting.

(Language in this Resolution adapted from JCPA’s 2017 Resolution on Voting Rights and American Humanist Association 2016 Resolution on Voting Rights)