Vote signs, American flags

The Fight for Free and Fair Elections

Today is National Voter Registration Day. Over the course of the day, volunteers, celebrities, and organizations across the country will hit the streets in a coordinated effort to educate and register eligible voters. The goal of the day is to reach tens of thousands of voters who might not otherwise get the information they need. In 2008, six million Americans didn’t vote due to a missed registration deadline or lack of information on how to register. National Voter Registration Day hopes to put political differences aside and celebrate democracy, unifying the American people.

Starting with the 2010 elections, state and federal elections laws have come more and more under the microscope, with attempts to change or rewrite existing laws. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, between early 2011 and the 2012 election, state lawmakers introduced at least 180 restrictive voting bills in 41 states across the country. 27 of these measures were passed in 19 states, though many were overturned or weakened by courts, citizen-led initiatives and the Department of Justice (DOJ) before the 2012 election.

Since the controversial 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, fair and comprehensible access to voting has been imperiled. The decision invalidated the preclearance process, in which new election laws must be cleared by the DOJ, until a new formula for determining which counties require preclearance is agreed upon. Taking advantage of this gap in regulation, state legislatures have been very active in passing laws that impact access to voting. Some of these laws have been beneficial to the democratic process; for example, 20 states now offer online voter registration.

A number of other changes were motivated by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration’s comprehensive evaluation of America’s electoral system, which was released in January. The Commission’s key recommendations call for modernization of the registration process, measures to improve access to the polls both on and before Election Day, state of the art techniques to assure efficient management of polling places, and reforms of the standard-setting and certification process for new voting technology. In total, the Brennan Center found that in the past two years, 16 states have passed laws that will benefit voters and improve their access to the polls.

However, not all laws have been so positive: a number of them have restricted early voting and instituted new voter-ID requirements. While advocates of these laws believe they will counter voter fraud, opponents believe they only serve to disenfranchise vulnerable classes, most notably low-income and minority voters who do not have government issued IDs and who may not have the flexibility at work to vote on Election Day. The 2014 midterm election will see new voting restrictions in 22 states, though pending court cases could make changes to these laws in 7 states.

As Jews and as citizens, we know how important the right to vote is. Not only did Reform Jewish activists represent a disproportionate number of whites involved in the Civil Rights Movement, but the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was actually drafted in the Sillins Library of the Religious Action Center! And yet, even 50 years after the Freedom Summer and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, it is clear that our system is not free from discrimination. Our nation still has plenty of work to do in order to ensure free and fair elections in our country. On a national level, many politicians, organizations, and activists are fighting to restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act. The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 was introduced in January, though likely will not see action before the end of this Congress. But work needs to be done at state and local levels as well. National Voter Registration Day provides an opportunity for everyone to engage with the community and fight to protect our right to vote. Check out what is going on in your city today and join in the effort to have every American voice heard this November!

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About Claire Shimberg

Claire Shimberg is a 2014-2015 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the RAC. She graduated in 2014 from the University of Pennsylvania and is originally from Tampa, FL where she is a member of Congregation Schaarai Zedek.


  1. Placing Stumbling Blocks Before People with Disabilities: Voting Barriers and Disenfranchisement | Fresh Updates from RAC - October 31, 2014

    […] my colleagues and I have written about the barriers that prevent many Americans from voting. From voter ID laws to cuts in early voting, minorities are being disproportionately affected by changing voter laws. […]

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