Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Shabbat and the Nevada Caucuses

Nevada's key Democratic and Republican presidential caucuses are scheduled for this Saturday. This creates a problem for observant Jews (and Seventh-day Adventists) who do not work (e.g. write, use computers, carry objects, drive, spend money) for the entire day. Nevada, unbeknownst to most east-coast-Jews, has one of the fasting growing Jewish populations in the country, and has a higher percentage of Jews than all but a handful of states, include even Pennsylvania and Illinois.

If Nevada had a presidential primary, this would not be an issue. Jews could simply vote ahead of time by absentee ballot. However, a caucus (as everyone knows from Iowa) is different. Voters actually have to show up, debate, and have their eventual votes physically recorded (written down). Nevada could have designed a modified absentee ballot process, but chose not to.

This creates a large problem, since most observant Jews will not travel long distances to caucus, and even those who did would likely be uncomfortable about having others (even non-Jews) write down their votes for them. Some Democratic caucuses are scheduled near synagogues, but that only solves part of the problem.

The caucuses could be scheduled for the evening (as they were in Iowa), avoiding the entire problem (since Shabbat ends at 5:34 PST). However, both political parties have chosen to schedule their caucuses for the morning.

This is a serious breech of democracy. American citizens are being denied the right to vote because of their religious practices. Major Jewish organizations in Nevada should sue the state party, demanding that they reschedule the caucuses for the evening.

It is appalling that after American citizen can still be denied the right to vote.

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