Will the scheduling of Nevada’s caucuses during Saturday Sabbath services be the “hanging chad” of the 2008 election? After all, the top candidates in both parties seem to be running neck-and-neck, so much so that every state primary election counts. And in every state, every vote counts. But not every voter will have a chance to vote in this critical election.
The reality is the caucus system excludes anyone who cannot attend in person. However, in Nevada, the caucuses this year will also exclude two entire groups of people based on religious identity: observant Jews and Seventh Day Adventists. Even if this exclusion was done unintentionally, it endangers the vision of an America of religious tolerance.
“Scheduling the caucuses on Sabbath morning marginalizes both the Seventh-day Adventist Christian and the Orthodox Jewish communities,” said James Standish, Esq., an associate director for the Adventist Church on the Adventist News Network. “In an election that is being decided on thin margins, selecting a time that excludes thousands of voters may even change the outcome,” he added.
One would have hoped that, once appraised of the problem, the two parties would have responded in a proactive manner. But this does not seem to be the case.
Melissa, posting on the official site of The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, writes, “When I called the political parties in Nevada to inquire as to whether or not there were measures being taken to help accommodate those observant Jews who wished to participate in the caucuses, I received mixed results. A young Jewish woman at the Nevada Democratic Party told me that they had tried to put caucus-sites near religious neighborhoods and synagogues so that people could walk; precinct captains would be educated about the need to write down information on behalf of observant Jews instead of asking them to sign-in and write themselves. A gentleman at the Nevada Republican Party told me that the party was not even aware of the problem, but promised to make an effort to educate precinct captains on the issue. Neither had an adequate answer as to why the caucuses had to take place on a Shabbat morning.”
My mother, the daughter of immigrants, proudly voted at every opportunity. For her, the ability to vote distinguished America from the anti-Semitic Europe her parents had fled. The Sabbath is also a sacred right and responsibility of the Jewish people. Unfortunately, in Nevada this year, these two obligations are in conflict.
As the PBS series airing this month, “The Jewish Americans” highlights, Jews in America have often experienced discrimination and been forced to negotiate tensions between retaining our unique identity and entering the mainstream of modern American life and polity.
I don’t know how many Jews hold true enough to the religious conviction of Sabbath observance to be troubled by this dilemma. But it is troubling that the Nevada leadership is not more troubled and apologetic about the impact of the conflict they have created.