VOTER FRAUD. A JEWISH ISSUE? American Jews Have Traditionally Been at the Forefront of the Struggle for Expanding Voting Rights. but as Political Conservatism Has Gained a Stronger Foothold, a Small but Highly Influential Group of Jews Has Switched Allegiance

By Breger, Sarah; Epstein, Nadine et al. | Moment, November-December 2018 | Go to article overview

VOTER FRAUD. A JEWISH ISSUE? American Jews Have Traditionally Been at the Forefront of the Struggle for Expanding Voting Rights. but as Political Conservatism Has Gained a Stronger Foothold, a Small but Highly Influential Group of Jews Has Switched Allegiance


Breger, Sarah, Epstein, Nadine, Guttman, Nathan, Modi, Anis, Schwartz, Amy E., Moment


It was 1908, and New York City was in the midst of its biggest wave of Jewish immigration. As election time approached, city officials, worried about the potential electoral boost these new immigrants would give socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs, took action. Strict voter registration requirements were already in place in New York, forcing residents to register every year, supposedly as a way to prevent fraud. Now, another hurdle was introduced, one that could only be seen as a way to disenfranchise Jewish voters: Registration days were set for Saturdays, and once a year on a Monday--except that the Monday in question was Yom Kippur. This obvious attempt to suppress Jewish votes was not unusual at the time. Minorities were routinely blocked from participating in the electoral system, and Jews were no exception.

As Jews assimilated into American society, Jewish Americans, who vote at higher rates than many other groups, quickly moved from being the victims of voter suppression to leading the fight to ensure voting rights for all. "For many Jewish immigrants, voting was tremendously exciting, because they came from countries where they couldn't vote," says Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University. "As a Jew, you always wanted to vote. It was an obligation."

In particular, Jews played a key role when it came to securing the vote for African Americans. Jewish activists Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner were murdered in Mississippi in 1964, alongside African American activist James Chaney, while working to register African Americans to vote. Civil rights lawyer Morris B. Abram championed "one voter, one vote" and battled voter suppression in Georgia for 14 years, eventually convincing the Supreme Court to strike down a state law that disenfranchised urban black voters in primary elections. Jews were instrumental in helping President Lyndon Johnson push through the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was drafted in the conference room of the Religious Action Center (RAC) of Reform Judaism in Washington, DC. One provision of the law--Section 5--required states and localities with a history of racial discrimination to get approval from the federal government to enact any changes to their voting laws.

Section 5 was envisioned as a temporary measure, but Congress reauthorized the provision four times with overwhelming bipartisan support, amid widespread evidence that the problem had not gone away: States with a history of discrimination were still regularly attempting to adopt measures the Justice Department ruled suspect. In 2006, Congress voted 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House to extend the entire act until 2031, and President George W. Bush signed it into law.

But a sea change occurred in 2013 when the Supreme Court stepped in to rule in the landmark case Shelby County v. Holder, issuing a 5-4 decision that effectively invalidated Section 5. This led to a surge in new state laws that, among other things, have purged voter rolls, limited same-day voter registration, reduced or eliminated early voting, adopted restrictive voter ID requirements, limited the number of polling stations in areas with large minority populations, cut polling hours and made it more difficult or impossible for convicted felons to regain their right to vote. Since Shelby took effect in 2013, "The lid has been lifted. Voter suppression actions are popping up every day," says Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, a nonpartisan public policy and law institute that was founded in 1995 by the family and former law clerks of Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan. Voting rights advocates such as Weiser say Shelby has made it more difficult to overcome measures whose practical effect is to limit minority groups' access to the electoral process.

Out of sight of most American Jews, a change also occurred in the Jewish community. …

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VOTER FRAUD. A JEWISH ISSUE? American Jews Have Traditionally Been at the Forefront of the Struggle for Expanding Voting Rights. but as Political Conservatism Has Gained a Stronger Foothold, a Small but Highly Influential Group of Jews Has Switched Allegiance
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