Tag Archives: democracy

JCRC Applauds MA Legislature for Adopting New Law Regarding Election Safety

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 
Contact: Shira Burns
July 8, 2020

(Boston, MA) - The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston applauds Governor Charlie Baker, Senate President Karen Spilka, Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, Elections Committee Chairs Senator Barry Finegold and John Lawn, and the Massachusetts legislature for standing together and adopting a sweeping new Elections law, ensuring safe and accessible elections for voters in 2020 across Massachusetts.

JCRC is committed to upholding a robust democratic process and ensuring elections in the Commonwealth reflect the diversity of voices in our community.  Together with Common Cause, the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Election Modernization Coalition and 80+ organizations, JCRC advocated for legislation to address the challenges facing the electoral process during the COVID-19 pandemic and this new law is the culmination of a several months long advocacy campaign.

“We congratulate Governor Baker, Senate President Spilka, Speaker DeLeo and our partners in government and the advocacy community for coming together to quickly address the threat and fallout that COVID-19 has on our electoral process,” said Jeremy Burton, Executive Director for the Jewish Community Relations Council. “No one should fear for their health and safety while exercising their right to vote, and this law is an important step in that direction. We urge swift implementation.”

About the Jewish Community Relations Council
JCRC defines and advances the values, interests, and priorities of the organized Jewish community of Greater Boston in the public square. Visit us at www.jcrcboston.org.

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Defending democracy during a pandemic

Most people don’t remember that 9/11/2001 was a major primary day in New York City. I cast my vote for a nominee for mayor just minutes before the first tower was struck. After the second tower was hit, the governor rightly suspended the voting for two weeks. The notion of postponing the general election briefly became an issue, when the term-limited incumbent floated the idea of extending his tenure for a few months. But in the end, there was no delay, and the general election was held on its regularly scheduled first Tuesday in November, a celebration, of sorts, of the city’s resiliency, less than two months after the worst day our city had ever endured.

That memory resurfaced for me a few weeks ago when Wisconsin residents were forced to make an impossible choice between protecting their personal health and safety in the face of a deadly pandemic, or as “the People,” protecting their collective right to vote. The long lines in Milwaukee that election day were both an outrage and an inspiration, a profound act of civic duty and an insistent defense of democracy amidst this pandemic.

In times of crisis and in times of calm, there is no more sacred task than voting. It is, quite simply, the most direct tool we have to hold government accountable to those who are the governed. For JCRC, the health of our democracy is so essential to our self-interest as Jews and as Americans, that our mission states that we “promote an American society which is democratic, pluralistic, and just.”

For JCRC, those aren’t just words. They are guiding and enduring values that have informed our policy work and our advocacy for over 75 years. In the spring of 2019, before our current crisis, our Council – through its deliberative process of study and debate – adopted principles for defending democracy. At the time, our Council stated that:

Judaism’s view of human society includes many values that are key to a democracy. In accord with these Jewish values, the hallmark of a well-functioning democracy is the primacy of “We, the People”: an engaged electorate, with robust participation, and elected officials truly representative of home communities, from whom power flows. However, both history and current events are replete with policies and practices that water down the principle of “We, the People” by empowering the elite over the general populace.

This week, our Council met for our first regularly scheduled meeting since the onset of sheltering in Massachusetts. We began by taking the time to check in with and extend care to each other as a community. But we also spent time hearing from partners about the challenges ahead in conducting a free, fair, and safe election this fall in the midst of these daunting challenges.

Yesterday, building on our mission and our principles, we recommitted to comprehensive voting rights and affirmed our support for specific actions, including:

  • Expanding absentee voting including no-excuse absentee voting, permanent absentee voting, and other increased vote by mail options;
  • Preserving in-person voting, carefully balancing the safety of poll workers and voters, and minimizing suppressive tactics.
  • Expanding early voting options.
  • Advocating for immediate federal action and funding to support state and local elections, implementation of these reforms, and the United States Postal Service’s capacity and solvency to meet the increased demands from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Along with urgent priorities in human services, secure institutions, and caring for our neighbors, we’ll be working on these issues in the coming months. When this pandemic is over, we’ll continue to work on reforming and protecting our democracy, as we have for over 75 years now, because, as the Supreme Court held, over a century ago, in Yick Wo v. Hopkins: the right to vote is “a fundamental political right, because [it is] preservative of all rights.”

The strength of our community and the resiliency of our society is protected when we act on our enduring values and principles, even – and especially – in a crisis. Once again, we are called to take affirmative action to defend our rights and the rights of all Americans. Please join us in this work.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

 

JCRC Statement on Voting and Elections in a Pandemic

Embedded in JCRC’s mission is the obligation to promote an American society which is democratic, pluralistic and just. In 2019 JCRC of Greater Boston adopted principles to defend democracy, including the support of policies that (1) Identify and remove barriers to and increase voter registration and voter turnout and (2) Ensure the security and sustainability of our election system infrastructure.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the inadequacies of the American voting system and exacerbated long-standing suppressive tactics in jurisdictions across the country to ensure this fundamental right. Earlier this month, Wisconsin voters and poll workers were forced to choose between their health and their fundamental right to vote. Over a century ago, the United States Supreme Court held in Yick Wo v. Hopkins that the right to vote is “a fundamental political right, because [it is] preservative of all rights.”

Time is running out for our federal, state and local governments to act now to ensure that the rights and health of voters and pollworkers are protected in the upcoming elections and that the necessary robust infrastructure is supported and funded to increase participation. The Covid-19 pandemic demands a response to meet those needs.

JCRC supports federal, state and local policies that:

  • Expand absentee voting including no-excuse absentee voting, permanent absentee voting and other increased vote by mail options;
  • Preserve in-person voting, carefully balancing the safety of poll workers and voters, and minimizing suppressive tactics.
  • Expand early voting options.

In addition, JCRC calls for immediate federal action and funding for needed support of state and local elections, implementation of these reforms, and the United States Postal Service’s capacity and solvency to meet the increased demands from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our Urgent Need to Sustain Faith in Democracy

With all the attention given to this week’s fiasco of reporting results in Iowa, I find that I can’t let go of a recent report from the University of Cambridge’s Center for the Future of Democracy that — for the first time — “a majority of Americans (55 percent) are dissatisfied with [our] system of government.”

In an article, Yascha Mounk and Roberto Foa (co-author of above report) note:

“Citizens have become steadily disenchanted with their democratic systems. As a result, they are more and more willing to vote for extremist politicians who promise to break with the status quo. It is perfectly possible that democracies will recover from their current crisis in the years to come. But every new data point makes it that much harder to deny that such a crisis exists.”

This, of course, is not the first time we’ve grappled with an existential challenge of this nature. Jill Lepore reminds us in an essay this week that in the 1930s when “democracy nearly died all over the world and almost all at once, Americans argued about it, and then they tried to fix it.”

Today, this conversation about what has gone wrong with our system, and how we can fix it, has become most urgent. People will differ about some of the causes of this crisis, and certainly about what is to be done, but there is a conversation beginning to take shape.

I’m in the middle of two books right now that try to grapple with this:

  1. A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream by Yuval Levin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. As Levin writes in an essay last month, “What stands out about our era in particular is a distinct kind of institutional dereliction — a failure even to attempt to form trustworthy people, and a tendency to think of institutions not as molds of character and behavior but as platforms for performance and prominence.”
  2. Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein, founder of Vox, a liberal aligned media platform. Klein writes that “one of the few real hopes for depolarizing American politics is democratization” including, for example, establishing automatic voter registration – for which there is legislation under consideration here in Massachusetts that we at JCRC support.

In reading these works, and others (such as Lepore’s These Truths: A History of the United States), I’m struck that these aren’t only challenges for the nation as a whole, but for all levels of community and civil society. The challenges to institutions also come in our Jewish communities, where some who are unsatisfied with the values and priorities of the collective seek to tear down and delegitimize the very fabric of centuries-old communal institutions rather than engage in substantive debate. And the challenges of public leadership are not limited to elected officials, but to anyone who has a leadership role in building trust in institutions.

No doubt each of us can find ways to agree or disagree with some of the options and strategies these authors and others are offering right now. But with every passing event – such as Iowa – I’m imbued with a sense of urgency about this conversation and about our role as leaders and institutions to both model a better way forward and act as advocates for the repair of civil society.

I’d love to hear from you about this: What are you reading? How do you think about this moment in our society? And, most importantly, what is our communal call to action?

In that same essay, Lepore gives examples of many things that were attempted back in the 30s to address these challenges. She notes, “These efforts don’t always work. Still, trying them is better than talking about the weather, and waiting for someone to hand you an umbrella.”

That wisdom rings true to for me in our current moment. I hope that it does for you as well.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

“We, the People”

The foundation of our American democracy is “We, the People”; an engaged electorate, with robust participation, and elected officials who represent communities. Communities and people from whom power flows.

But democracy is a fragile thing.

In his excellent book “The People vs. Democracy,” Yascha Mounk outlines how this fragility takes many forms: the internet era has “weakened traditional gatekeepers, empowering once-marginal movements and politicians.” A fraying of common ethnic identity within a country can lead to a “rebellion against pluralism.” Mounk writes that a healthy democracy balances the competing imperatives of individual rights and popular rule. One can end up with “illiberal democracy” – a state where popular will outweighs rights but is instituted through elections. At the other end of the spectrum one can have “undemocratic liberalism,” like the European Union. And when democracies fray and lose that balance, we see eruptions of discord and challenge to the very institutions of our societies.

A healthy democracy needs trust in governmental processes, checks and balances, fair and free elections. In other words, our enduring constitutional system.

Over the last several months, JCRC leaders met with experts, activists, and attorneys to ensure that we were fulfilling our mission to protect America’s democratic institutions. During our Council’s public policy process, they took a deep dive into the vitality of our political systems, the strength of our institutions, and the overall functioning of our democracy.  Together, they developed a series of principles – rooted in Jewish values – which were approved by our full Council last week and will now guide action over the coming years.

For example, in the last Massachusetts legislative session, JCRC worked with our allies to finally pass Automatic Voter Registration in Massachusetts. However, more is needed. Seemingly every day across the country, there is an innovative ploy to block access to the polls and to water down the vital principles of one-person-one-vote.  There are attempts to criminalize voter registration drives, punish people for errors on registration forms, overturn citizen initiatives on access to the polls, and voter restrictions targeting African-Americans with surgical precision.

We tell ourselves that Massachusetts is immune from these anti-democratic principles plaguing our country, but really, we know we have work to do right here in our communities. We have had elections where the winner only receives 22% of the votes, a Mayor was recalled and reelected in the same election, voter registration deadlines were declared unconstitutional (but then that decision overturned), and as we know, gerrymandering was invented here in Massachusetts. “Even” in Massachusetts, democracy is showing signs of weakness.

JCRC’s principles will guide us to support policies that make voting easier and elections more secure and reflective of the people, and to institutionalize norms that lead to a more informed electorate and accountable government. These principles will provide a lens for JCRC action over the coming years as we analyze legislation with our partners. We have already jumped into the fray in support of Election Day registration, where Massachusetts would join 15 other states and Washington D.C., to improve turnout and transparency, and to modernize our voting systems.

The fraying of democratic norms in America didn’t start this year or five years ago. It’s been happening over decades. Our collective commitment – as Jews and as Americans – to the health of our democracy isn’t new either. We’ve invested in, and benefited from American democracy for generations. But as the conversation about the health of our democracy has been heightened and sharpened in recent years, we feel compelled to clarify what we stand for and what we, as a community will fight to protect.

Challenging times call us to action. JCRC’s Council has heard that call and is responding. We hope that you will stand with us in these efforts.

Shabbat Shalom,

Aaron and Jeremy

Aaron Agulnek, Director of Government Affairs

Aaron Agulnek
Director,
Government Affairs

Jeremy Burton, Executive Director

Jeremy Burton
Executive Director