Image: “I Voted” sticker. Photo by Dwight Burdette, some rights reserved.
[Rabbi Isaac taught that] A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted. – Berachot 55a
Next week I’m headed down to Georgia to serve as a non-partisan volunteer poll monitor. My job will be twofold: (1) to assist voters who are having difficulty finding their polling place and/or accessing a ballot and (2) to report problems at the polls. I will not be there supporting a candidate. My vote is cast in California, and it will be over and done.
Why am I going? Because the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 25, 2013. (For a history of the long fight for the Voting Rights Act, read A Dream Undone in the New York Times, 7/29/15.) Since then, a number of states have instituted restrictions on voting that appear to disproportionately disadvantage the poor, the elderly, and people of color. I’m not going to Georgia to interfere with the law; I’m just going to help insure that the law doesn’t keep a legal voter from voting legally.
I’m going to Georgia to help insure that every person who is eligible to vote gets to cast their vote. When people’s polling places have been moved, I’ll help them look up the new polling place. When people can’t get to the new polling place because it’s too far from public transit, I’ll help them access a ride there. When a polling place is not handicap accessible, I’ll report the problem and help arrange for access. If someone is turned away from the polls unjustly, I’ll help them get access to legal assistance.
I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. I won’t be giving legal advice or doing anything heroic or stupid. I’m volunteering through the Religious Action Center and Election Protection, and they have given me training about the boundaries of my participation.
As a Jew, I believe that voting rights are sacred. In the quotation from the Talmud above, Rabbi Isaac gives the example of Betzalel, the chief builder of the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 36.) Betzalel could be chosen by God, but only with the approval of all the people of Israel. That ethic of political participation and the admonishments of the prophets to include the poor, the orphan and the widow in civic life have informed the American Jewish support for voting rights for all American citizens. That’s why I want to participate in this election: not only by exercising my own right to vote, but also by making sure that others get to exercise theirs.
If everyone has legal access to their right to vote, I’ll spend a really boring day sitting around, and then exhaust myself flying home in time to teach a class. Let’s hope for that, shall we?