Jewish Delegates Assembly of Greater Pittsburgh Statement on the Constitutional Right to Vote

Community cosponsors: Jewish Community Center, Temple Sinai, Rodef Shalom, BBYO, Community Relations Council

Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Two thousand years ago, when seeking a new public leader, the Talmud mandated that the right course of action was to go and ask the people.

The Babylonian Talmud records the following instruction about the selection of leaders: Rabbi Isaac taught that one must not appoint a public leader without first consulting the community, for it is said: “Moses said to the children of Israel, see the Lord has nominated Bezalel” (Exodus 35:30). The Almighty asked Moses, “Moses, do you think Bezalel is suitable?” Moses replied, “Master of the universe, if You think he is suitable, I certainly think so.” The Almighty said to him, “Nevertheless, go and ask the children of Israel.”

When the United States Constitution was ratified in 1788, voting was a privilege reserved for white males over the age of 21. However, as the country progressed out of its infancy, the ability to vote in local, statewide, and national elections became a fundamental right of every adult American citizen and is directly addressed in four of the 27 Constitutional Amendments:

  • The 15th Amendment (1870) declares that the right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.
  • The 19th Amendment (1920) guarantees all American women the right to vote.
  • The 23rd Amendment (1961) permits residents of the District of Columbia to vote in presidential elections.
  • The 26th Amendment (1971) lowers the federal voting age to 18.

It is our responsibility as Americans to guarantee all U.S. citizens – regardless of their race, sex, disability, income level, political beliefs or other real or perceived barriers – their Constitutional right to vote, and to ensure that measures implemented to prevent voter fraud do not intentionally or unintentionally infringe upon that right.

Balancing protection against voter fraud (which includes but is not limited to an individual registering to vote in more than one place; voting in a place where one does not live; and/or voting more than once in a given election) with the right to vote can be difficult to navigate, particularly when government-issued photo identification is required at the polls. Such requirements can be prohibitive for the elderly, disabled, poor, and young, who may not be able to travel to acquire IDs and/or to vote at polling stations. Additionally, limited hours at polling stations can be prohibitive to the working poor who hold multiple jobs, as well as single parents with stringent work and family obligations.

The health of a democracy is strongly correlated with voter turnout. The Bipartisan Policy Center estimates that 57.5 percent of all United States citizens of voting age (regardless of registration status) voted during the 2012 Presidential Election. Seventy percent of the eligible population had registered to vote that year, but only 82 percent of all registered voters participated in the election. Voting rates drop dramatically in nonpresidential election years.

The Jewish Delegates Assembly

  • Recognizes the Constitutional right of every American citizen to vote, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, sexual identity, language, or class.
  • Opposes any and all barriers that may prevent the elderly, disabled, poor, and young from voting, and notes how such barriers have a disproportionate impact on communities of color and the lower class.
  • Opposes all forms of voter fraud.
  • Recognizes the value of education about the importance of civic engagement.

The Community Relations Council should

  • Encourage all members of the Jewish community and all communities in Greater Pittsburgh to vote in presidential and nonpresidential elections.
  • Partner with Pittsburgh Public Schools, private schools and Jewish schools, as well as other community organizations in Pittsburgh to help educate students on the importance of civic engagement.
  • Partner with community organizations in Pittsburgh to help educate adults of voting age on the importance of civic engagement and register them to vote.
  • Strive to increase awareness within the Jewish community about the disproportionate impact that overly burdensome voter fraud prevention laws may have on communities of color and other underrepresented communities.
  • Support efforts to make voting more accessible to all American citizens, including early voting opportunities.
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