November 2, 2020
A person casts their ballot at Madison Square Garden polling station on November 1, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

The act of voting embodies the essence of being an American. When Jewish Americans vote, we reaffirm our American identity. So this election, regardless of who we vote for, we must not spare any effort – including through the easiest of acts like voting – to wage the ongoing fight for civil rights. American Jews have a proud history of standing by our fellow citizens and supporting the Civil Rights Movement.

Let us not forget the importance of each and every vote in swing states – specifically, let us not forget the Supreme Court’s 2000 decision in Bush v. Gore. Protecting every citizen’s right to vote and ensuring that they have that vote counted is especially crucial in times of crisis, such as the current deadly pandemic. We passed a grim milestone on October 23, when our nation set a new daily record with over 85,000 new cases of the coronavirus reported. Safe and accessible elections are a fundamental prerequisite for a flourishing democracy, and people who have medical risk factors shouldn’t have to overcome unreasonable fears for their safety in order to exercise their most fundamental civic right.

Moreover, these barriers to voting tend to impact our nation’s citizens so disproportionately on the basis of race that they infringe upon the bedrock principles that all people are created equal and that we are all created in the image of God. For example, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School reports that around 80% of Georgia citizens whose voter registration was blocked before the 2018 election (under a new law pertaining to voter ID documentation) were people of color. Eighty percent. This sort of clear and indefensible injustice is an affront to us all and weakens the state of our union. It transcends politics and parties, and it should call out each and every one of us — not just because we are Americans, but also because we are Jews.

In the Old World, our ancestors didn’t have the opportunity or right to participate politically and influence their government to do good. But today, we do have that opportunity. Voting honors our ancestors, including the ones who immigrated to America, to exercise the rights and privileges that we possess because of their sacrifices. In the words of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who led the Orthodox Union from the 1960s to 1980s, “A fundamental principle of Judaism is hakarat hatov – recognizing benefits afforded us and giving expression to our appreciation. Therefore, it is incumbent upon each Jewish citizen to participate in the democratic system, which guards the freedoms we enjoy. The most fundamental responsibility of each individual is to register and to vote.”

Voting honors our ancestors.

It is also our fundamental responsibility to protect every citizen’s right to cast their vote in this election, and we must do everything in our power to get out the vote before November 3. Democracy is worth defending. Now more than ever.

Stephen N. Zack is a partner at the Boies Schiller Flexner Law firm and a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Lawyer as well as the Learned Hand Award from the AJC.

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