Reform Rabbi Testifies Against OH Voting Bill
Voting rights advocates in Ohio were mobilizing for a November referendum to repeal a restrictive voting rights law – and then last Tuesday, Gov. John Kasich signed an almost-complete repeal of the very law he had approved one year earlier. I say “almost complete” because the repeal legislation left one provision in place – and that is why the fight goes on.
House Bill 194 would have restricted absentee and early voting, imposed new restrictions on the counting of provisional ballots, and prohibited poll workers from assisting voters who need help finding their correct poll location or completing forms. Advocates were successful in postponing implementation of House Bill 194 pending the outcome of the November referendum, but the backlash against the measure was so strong that the Legislature passed an almost-complete repeal and Gov. Kasich signed the repeal last week.
The provision that was left in place: the prohibition against early voting during the three days before an election.
It’s unclear yet whether the November referendum will remain on the ballot. But the fact that Ohio lawmakers passed this law to begin with is still deeply troubling. House Bill 194 was one of several new state voting restrictions that threaten to disenfranchise millions of voters, including minorities, people with disabilities, elderly individuals and college students.
Rabbi Nosanchuk of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, in Beachwood, Ohio, is speaking out. Echoing the actions of his predecessor Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld, who in 1964 marched in Mississippi for voting rights for African Americans, Rabbi Nosanchuk submitted testimony to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights when the subcommittee held a field hearing in Cleveland on May 7. An excerpt of the testimony is below:
I am a rabbi, a faith and community leader in the Jewish community. So I see this legislation and its inordinate number of restrictions on voting in the context of the value expressed in Deuteronomy 16:20 Tzedek! Tzedek Tirdof! Justice, justice shall you pursue!
I believe that the value of justice is repeated twice in the Bible as an admonishment to every one of us to judge with justice. In other words, we must make tzedek (“justice”) the guiding value by which we evaluate the laws of conduct in our democratic society. I know that when I focus my attention on justice and fairness, I am outraged at bills which would unfairly target minorities, elderly and poor individuals and others who share my commitment and my synagogue’s legacy of acting to make civil rights, human rights and voting rights the cornerstones of our public and social activism.
Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof. Justice, justice shall you pursue -Deuteronomy 16:20
I commend your committee to pursue tzedek (“justice”) and ask yourselves if you discern it to be present in the strictures on voting rights proposed for Ohioans.
I ask you to consider that tzedek (“justice”) is not a one-size-fits-all concept. We are each called upon to look to our own moral fiber and our diverse backgrounds to define this concept. For history has shown that even when societies pursue it as their highest aim, there is no uniformity of views and thus it is an equal commitment to justice that inspires and allows every citizen to speak his mind and vote her conscience.
To me, tzedek (“justice”) can mean for us in Ohio and the U.S. unity for the pursuit of equality, righteousness and freedom, on election day and every day.
For the sake of fairness, equal access, and what I hope to be your firm commitment to the civil rights and just treatment of all U.S. citizens, I urge you to investigate closely and use every energy in your power to combat these dangerous proposals in Ohio, which suppress votes and are no less discriminatory than the systems and practices our nation tried to rid itself of five decades ago.
You can read the full testimony on Anshe Chesed’s blog, “If Not Now, When?”
Is your state considering a similar voting restriction? Speak up and let your officials know that you oppose voter ID and other voter suppression measures in your state. Use this map for more information on the status of your states’ voting laws.
To learn more about how your congregation or organization can promote civic engagement this election season, download your copy of the RAC’s Get Out the Vote 2012 guide now.