Jews, Propositions and Voting Attrition

For the first time in several elections, there are no state propositions on the November ballot that are clearly rousing Jewish communal organizations. Yet, at an open forum last week at Stephen S. Wise Temple, close to 200 people showed up to listen to experts discuss the initiatives. Several audience members took notes and marked their sample ballots as they listened to the speakers. The most controversial ballot measures — Proposition 5 (tribal gaming), Proposition 8 (public schools, class-reduction size), Proposition 9 (electric utilities) and Proposition 10 (tobacco surcharges for early childhood development programs) — featured pro and con discussions.

Co-sponsored by the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation, the University of Judaism and Stephen S. Wise, the discussion led to no major fireworks, as have previous election forums, when Propositions 209, 227 and 187 galvanized the Jewish community with the hot-button issues of affirmative action, bilingual education and immigration.

“The beauty of having something like a [Proposition] 209 or a 187 on the ballot was that it got people out to vote,” said Tamar Galatzan, ADL Western States associate counsel. Although Jews have traditionally turned out to vote in higher numbers than many other groups, Galatzan said she worries about voter attrition, even in the Jewish community. “I have a friend that I went to law school with who has never registered to vote,” she said. “Yet, if you look at what has been in the headlines in the last few months — hate crimes, religious freedom issues — you realize the importance of voting.”

The growing disaffection of Jewish voters doesn’t seem to extend to the elderly, however. Howard Celnik, activities director at the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda, estimates that two-thirds of JHA’s 700 residents, whose average age is 90, vote. Those who don’t often are incapable of doing so, he said. The voting booths at JHA are on the premises and are open to voters in surrounding neighborhoods. “They have flags and balloons that say, ‘Did you vote today?'” Celnik said. “It’s a very exciting time for [JHA residents] because they have the ability to demonstrate control over their environment. They take voting very seriously here.”