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.
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.
To register to vote, you must be a United States citizen, be a resident in the state where you are registering to vote, be at least 18 years old, not be a convicted felon. Nowhere on this list of criteria is having a permanent home a necessary requirement to going to the ballot box and voting.
For homeless people in a shelter, they can use the address of the shelter or where they receive mail to register to vote, and they will vote in the precinct closest to where they will receive mail. Not every state even required a mailing address to register to vote.
Courts have also addressed this issue: in 1992’s Coalition for the Homeless v. Jensen, the New York Appellate Court ruled that a requirement that people live in a traditional dwelling in order to vote put an unconstitutional constraint on the voting rights of homeless persons. When this case was heard, over one hundred residents appeared in court and were accepted as voters.
Every year, low income and homeless people vote at a lower rate than individuals with higher income individuals, even though many of the policies that they will be voting on will greatly impact them. Though having a home is not mandatory for voting, homeless individuals have long faced obstacles in registering to vote. This in part because of the voter ID laws that have made it so difficult for many Americans to get to the polls to vote, especially for those without permanent housing. Additionally, it is more challenging for individuals experiencing homelessness to learn about the candidates or to figure out where they should go to vote, because it is often harder for them to access this information.
There are many efforts underway to ensure that as many individuals – even those who do not have homes – can get to the polls. Organizations such as the National Coalition for the Homeless have been supporting voter registration efforts and are also promoting candidate’s forums on issues relevant to the homeless population. These organizations also work to provide transportation for those to go from the shelter to the polls, and volunteers drop off registration cards at the shelters and then ensure that the completed registration cards get to the proper jurisdiction office.
Despite the success of these efforts, significant challenges remain: many of the shelters are understaffed, interfering with their ability to register as many people as possible. Further, limited hours at Boards of Elections make it harder for people to vote early, which makes it harder for shelters to get individuals to the polls in an easy and efficient manner.
If your state’s voter registration deadline has not passed, make sure that you register to vote today! This Election Day, think about how fortunate we are to have the opportunity to weigh in on critical issues in our society. Every voice should count in this process, and we need to encourage as many people as possible to get to the polls and vote.
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…
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…
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…
“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.
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.
Today is the one-year anniversary of Shelby v. Holder, the Supreme Court’s decision that struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.
Renewed by bipartisan majorities on several occasions, most recently in 2006, the Voting Rights Act long protected Americans from discrimination at the ballot box. The Shelby decision struck down Section 4(b), a provision of the bill that required states and jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to pre-clear potentially discriminatory voting changes with the federal Department of Justice. While some parts of the Voting Rights Act do remain in place, in the year since the Court’s decision a number of states and jurisdictions have engaged in discriminatory behaviors. Read more…