Resolution Adopted by the CCAR

RESOLUTION ON ELECTION REFORM

Adopted by the Board of Trustees
June, 2001

Background

The presidential election of 2000 exposed numerous flaws in the United States' election procedures. Across the nation, polling mechanisms, the design of election ballots, voting rules, hours, and allocation of financial resources vary significantly between states and localities. In many jurisdictions utilizing older types of voting equipment (such as punch card machines) ballots are disqualified at significantly higher rates than in jurisdictions employing more accurate and reliable equipment (such as optical scan machines). In some states, it has been found that older machines are concentrated in poorer areas and result in statistically higher rates of disqualified votes for citizens of color, who tend to reside in these precincts. Moreover, due to the lack of legislative prioritization for funding of election administration, officials in many states and localities do not have the resources to hire adequate numbers of election workers and conduct meaningful voter education programs. Finally, in some instances, efforts to purge ineligible voters from registration rolls (including those who have died, moved, or been sentenced as felons) have resulted in the mistaken elimination of fully eligible voters from registration rolls. Election laws that place high burdens of proof on the voter, combined with inadequate checks and balances in these systems in place on Election Day, have made it difficult for such aggrieved voters to obtain redress.

Many citizens are particularly embittered over the alleged disenfranchisement of citizens of color during the 2000 presidential election. While the events in the state of Florida have received the most attention, the phenomenon is not limited to that state in particular. Along with the disqualifying of thousands of disputed ballots, there are unanswered questions about both access to the polls and the fairness of procedures for counting of votes. Many citizens of color harbor lingering resentment over this process, and echo the sentiment of Representative John Lewis (D-GA), who remarked, "I thought this was behind us." Allegations of voter disenfranchisement remind us of the vital importance of our government's obligations to vigorously enforce voting rights laws and ensure that all Americans have free, unfettered access to fulfill their right to a secret ballot.

Our tradition teaches us that the process of choosing leaders is not a privilege, but a collective responsibility. The Sage Hillel taught "Al tifros min hatzibur, Do not separate yourself from the community" (Pirke Avot 2:5). Rabbi Yitzhak taught that "A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted" (Babylonian Talmud Berachot 55a). This ethic of political participation has guided Jews to enthusiastically participate in the American electoral process and is epitomized by our traditionally strong voter turnout. Jews also have placed a priority on voter education and registration efforts. In the past election cycle, the Reform Movement, through the Religious Action Center, took a lead role in this effort by publishing a "Get Out the Vote Program Plan and Action Manual," jointly with the Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Orthodox Movements. Moreover, given our historical role in the civil rights struggle, allegations of voter disenfranchisement compel us to speak out. It is our duty to ensure that all citizens are afforded the opportunity to vote and have their votes counted.

In order to restore confidence in the integrity and fairness of our nation's election process, government agencies at the federal, state and local levels must work together to evaluate the various components of our electoral system. They should take any necessary and appropriate steps to strengthen and/or change policy at the federal, state and local levels to ensure that all persons wishing to vote are given a meaningful opportunity to do so, and all votes determined to be valid in accordance with established fair standards are counted accordingly. Congress and other government agencies should assess approaches that aim to ensure fairness with regard to casting and counting of votes, including, but not limited to, the implementation of a uniform nationwide poll closing time and uniform standards for counting disputed ballots within individual states. Government agencies at the federal, state and local levels should also evaluate and undertake measures aimed at expanding voter registration, increasing voter participation and ensuring equal access to the polls for all Americans. Such measures could include, but are not limited to, weekend voting; mail-in ballots; establishment of Election Day as a holiday; and same-day voter registration.

For the Jewish community, the events surrounding the 2000 presidential election must be seen as a clarion call to civic duty. The impetus now exists for us to redouble efforts, individually and collectively, to increase voter registration and participation, and engage in legislative advocacy to ensure that vital election reform proposals are afforded serious consideration by our nation's elected officials.

Therefore, the Central Conference of American Rabbis resolves to:

  1. Call on federal, state and local governments to vigorously enforce voting rights laws and to ensure that all Americans have free, unfettered access to fulfill their right to a secret ballot.
  2. Support legislation at the federal, state and local levels to ensure fairness with respect to the casting and counting of votes.
  3. Support the replacement of unreliable and outmoded voting equipment with more accurate and reliable equipment.

  4. Urge the federal government to provide financial assistance to state and local governments to implement improvements in their election systems.
  5. Call on the United States Department of Justice and other appropriate governmental agencies to conduct a proper and thorough investigation into the deeply troubling allegations of voter disenfranchisement during the 2000 presidential election.
  6. Encourage federal, state and local government agencies to undertake measures aimed at expanding voter registration, increasing voter participation and ensuring equal access to the polls for all Americans.

Call on our member rabbis to take a leadership role within their congregations and communities in sponsoring nonpartisan voter registration and voter participation drives.