In anticipation of the off-year elections, a call to arms for a more engaged electorate.
By N. Aaron Troodler
Jews around the world celebrate the High Holidays as a period of introspection and reflection. Regardless of where one may be on the religious spectrum, Jews of all denominations have traditionally engaged in self-assessment on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and use this time on the Jewish calendar as an opportunity to pledge to better ourselves in the New Year.
While spiritual growth and enhancing our Jewish identity are the most critical components that warrant our attention this time of year, there are additional ways through which we can commit to enrich our community and strengthen our collective voice.
As American Jews, we are privileged to enjoy the liberties afforded us by the United States Constitution. Voting is perhaps the most fundamental right we are given as United States citizens. However, voting is also a privilege that is all too often squandered.
There are two important steps to voting, namely, registering to vote and actually casting your ballot on Election Day. Voting deserves renewed attention from the Pennsylvania Jewish community. We must abandon voter apathy that too often prevails and reaffirm our commitment to this very basic, yet absolutely critical constitutional right.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, there were 8,156,743 registered voters in the Commonwealth as of December 2014. That figure represents a decrease of over 60,000 registered voters since December 2013 and a reduction of more than 171,000 since December 2010. These diminishing figures raise a red flag and signal a downward trend that must be reversed. When it comes to voter registration, a decline is unacceptable.
In its 2014 report to Congress, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission analyzed data from the 2014 election cycle and ascertained that voter turnout in Pennsylvania hovers around 35 percent, which ranks the Commonwealth in the bottom half of the 50 states.
As a vibrant and engaged community, we must do our part to turn those figures around. The Pennsylvania Jewish community prides itself on being active in civic affairs and participating in the governmental process. We expend a tremendous amount of effort to ensure that Jewish day schools receive the government funding and services we rightfully deserve. We work diligently to make certain that our voices are heard in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. on issues that impact our community. We do everything possible to promote and protect our Jewish values and lifestyle in the context of public policy. Now is the time to focus on further solidifying our engagement with the democratic processes. The way to do that is by renewing our commitment to voting.
For those who may believe that their vote does not count, let me assure you that I have been involved with several elections where the slimmest of margins separated the victor from the loser. For those who think that nobody cares whether or not they vote, I can verify that elected officials regularly look to see who votes and who does not vote. If there is a sense among our elected officials that the Jewish community does not vote, our voice is weakened considerably.
The path to increasing our voter registration numbers has become much smoother and easier to navigate. Governor Tom Wolf recently signed a measure into law making Pennsylvania the 23rd state in the nation to offer an online voter registration system. In the several weeks since this initiative was unveiled, more than 5,000 people statewide have already registered online to vote. This new Internet-based program facilitates a relatively effortless means to increase our voter registration figures and ensure that access to voting is available to everyone.
As we begin a New Year, we should use this occasion to make a collective communal and civic commitment as well. We need to resolve to re-engage in the electoral process. If you or your children that are of voting age are not registered to vote, go to www.register.votesPA.com and register online today. If you are already registered, make a pledge to set aside a little bit of time on Election Day in order to go to the polls and cast your vote.
The strength of our community’s voice is inextricably linked with our community’s voter registration and turnout figures. Now is the time for each of us to do our part and make this important commitment for the betterment of the Pennsylvania Jewish community.
N. Aaron Troodler is an attorney and the Pennsylvania Regional Director for the OU Advocacy Center, which is the non-partisan public policy arm of the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish organization, representing nearly 1,000 congregations nationwide.