Tag Archives: Voting Rights

When Personal Safety Proves an Obstacle to Voting

During my senior year of college, I worked as a courtroom advocate at the St. Louis County Domestic Violence Court, a division of the court system that deals exclusively with orders of protection in cases of domestic violence. I worked with petitioners to create or improve their safety plan (i.e. what strategies did they use to keep themselves as safe as possible from their abuser?) and to connect people to resources available in our community, like counseling programs, employment assistance, shelters and transitional housing, and legal services. Throughout my year at the court, I watched hundreds of petitioners share evidence of their abuse before the judge, who asked the same, simple question every time: “Does your abuser’s behavior make you fear for your safety?”

Many of the petitioners I worked with shared that a large part of what made them feel unsafe is that their abusers knew where they were. A common tactic abusers use to gain power and control over their partners is to know where they go and when: home, work, school, a child’s school, a friend or family member’s place. As part of their safety plan, many survivors I met lived in hiding from their abuser, whether by changing their schedule, by transferring branches at a job, or by moving to a new home—all substantial undertakings that can uproot a person’s life, if they are at all able to make these changes, and which highlight the many ways in which domestic violence can have long term and diverse effects on a person’s life.

As if moving to hide from an abuser weren’t difficult enough, it is not so easy to keep that address a tightly sealed secret. Enrolling children in school, setting up utility bills, filing a court petition and registering to vote all require submitting an address on forms that ultimately become part of the public record, quite easily accessible to anyone who cares to look. For survivors of domestic violence, having their address on record can undo careful, complex plans to stay safe by keeping that information private from their abuser, who do care to look. Some states provide alternate options for survivors, offering voter confidentiality programs that allow individuals to use a substitute address in order to help maintain their safety. But such provisions are not the norm. In the 22 states in which anyone can access voter registration records, survivors of abuse are faced with choice of potentially compromising their safety or not registering to vote. If safety is the utmost concern—and it makes sense that it is—survivors are left disenfranchised.

Jewish values teach us that “a ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted” (Babylonian Talmud Berachot 55a)—and that means everybody in the community. We know that obstacles to voting exist in many forms, from active voter suppression like voter ID laws and felon disenfranchisement policies, to failure to ensure that all those who can legally register feel safe realizing that right. Requiring survivors of domestic violence to compromise their safety in order to exercise a fundamental right hinders our democracy.

Felon disenfranchisement

Transgender Disenfranchisement Highlights Broader Transgender Discrimination

In less than two weeks, millions of Americans will go to the polls and vote in the 2014 election. However, it is estimated that tens of thousands of transgender Americans could be denied their right to vote in this upcoming election. Transgender voter disenfranchisement highlights one of the many examples of transgender discrimination and the long road ahead for transgender equality.

Read more…

Homeless youth

Ensuring That A Permanent Home Is Not a Prerequisite to Voting

This week, we will read Parashat Noach, which tells the story of Noah and the flood. In this parashah (Torah portion), as the flood came upon the Earth over the course of seven days, Noah and his family took shelter in the ark, along with all the animals that “went two and two … into the ark, male and female, as God commanded Noah” (Genesis 7:8). Though the rain continues for forty days and forty nights, “Noah only was left, and they that were with him in the ark,” and they were safe (Genesis 7:23). Every animal was represented, and everyone was provided the shelter that would provide them with safety.

As Election Day approaches, we are reminded of the importance of making ourselves heard in our democratic process. It is crucial that as many people who can vote have the ability to get to the polls. For those who are homeless, however, registering to vote and getting to the polls can be especially challenging.

Read more…

Supreme Court

Take Action to #RestoreVotingRights in Light of Major Loss in Texas

With Election Day only two weeks away, there’s no better topic to discuss than voting rights. The civil rights community is calling today #RestoreVotingRights Day in an effort to engage social media in this important conversation. This election will be the least protected election in almost 50 years because of Congress’s failure to act in the wake of the Shelby County Supreme Court decision. Free and fair elections, secured by the Voting Rights Act, are the cornerstone of American democracy, and this issue should be seen in that way. Voting rights is a Jewish issue, a civil rights issue, a Democratic issue, a Republican issue, and an issue for everyone who believes in our democracy. Read more…

I "Ohio" Voting stickers

Suppressive SCOTUS Decision Reminds Us to Continue to Protect the Right to Vote

With only 16 hours left before early voting was set to begin in Ohio, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to eliminate the first week of the state’s 35-day early voting period last Monday. The decision will restrict voters’ access to the polls by eliminating the only week in Ohio’s early voting period that allows citizens to register and vote on the same day. That week is referred to as the “Golden Week” and civil rights groups have said that Sunday and the evening hours are most important to black and low-income voters and the homeless, many of whom do not have the flexibility in their jobs or daily lives to vote during business hours. Read more…

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. Read more…

Protecting the Right To Vote

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  -Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1965, change was in the air.  At the height of the American civil rights movement, African-American leaders were working to eliminate the barriers that prevented minorities from exercising their 15th Amendment rights to vote.  The new amendment, known as the Voting Rights Act (VRA), was successfully signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson that year.

Read more…

Honoring our Legacy by Continuing the Work

As I think back on my years of service and involvement in Jewish communal life, I marvel at the key role the Reform Movement played in advancing and achieving civil rights, both in the lead-up to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and in the years since.

Read more…

<