Passaic, NJ — New Jersey Democratic Assemblyman Gary Schaer, the first-ever Orthodox Jewish member of the state’s Legislature, today called on Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to intercede with the state party caucuses planned in Alaska, Hawaii, and Kansas to guarantee that religiously observant voters will be able to participate.
According to multiple national news reports, Orthodox Jews and others, including Seventh Day Adventists, were effectively shut-out from participating in Nevada’s Democratic Caucus this past weekend. Under the Nevada rules, a voter must be in attendance to register their presidential preference.
Schaer said that upon further research, his office discovered that those rules also exist in Alaska, Hawaii, and Kansas, meaning religiously observant voters would be disenfranchised in those states, as well.
“The Democratic Party has long been considered the party of inclusion,” Schaer wrote to Wasserman Schultz in a letter also sent to the heads of the Democratic parties in Alaska, Hawaii, and Kansas. “As a party, we need to stand for ideals that extend the right to vote not only to racial and ethnic minorities, but religious ones as well. The right and ability to vote is the fundamental cornerstone of our democracy and no American should have his or her fundamental rights infringed upon because of their religious affiliation.”
The remaining three states with Shabbos caucuses — Nebraska, Washington, and Wyoming — each offer a surrogate affidavit or absentee option to ensure a vote can be cast.
“Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz is in a position to ensure that every person who believes in the values of the Democratic Party has their voice heard as to who shall lead our ticket in November,” said Schaer. “Those who heed a call of faith to keep the Sabbath cannot be disenfranchised. Telling a segment of the Democratic Party that their voices don’t count would, well, ‘trump’ everything our party stands for.”
Schaer was the sponsor of a 2008 New Jersey state law that allows for the rescheduling of elections so as not to interfere with solemn religious observances. That law stemmed from a proposed school referendum that year in the New Jersey town of Edison that was scheduled to be held on Rosh Hashanah.
The text of Schaer’s full letter is below:
February 24, 2016
Hon Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Chair, Democratic National Committee
430 South Capitol Street
Washington DC, 20003
Dear Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz:
Recent media reports indicate that certain religiously observant voters were unable to participate in this past Saturday’s Nevada Democratic Caucus. Specifically, reports that Nevada’s Orthodox Jewish and Seventh Day Adventist voters had no way of exercising their right to choose the next Democratic Presidential nominee are highly disconcerting.
As the first Orthodox Jewish member to serve in the New Jersey Legislature, I have gone to great lengths over the past ten years to ensure all religiously observant New Jerseyans have the ability to participate in our democracy. In fact, in 2008, I wrote and passed into law legislation providing for the adjustment of elections which may fall on a date which coincides with a period of religious observance.
The Democratic Party has long been considered the party of inclusion. In fact, both Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders have gone to great lengths to demonstrate to Democratic voters their efforts to enfranchise all Americans and bring more minorities into our party. As a party, we need to stand for ideals that extend the right to vote not only to racial and ethnic minorities, but religious ones as well. The right and ability to vote is the fundamental cornerstone of our democracy and no American should have his or her fundamental rights infringed upon because of their religious affiliation.
Going forward, it has come to my attention that the States of Kansas (Saturday, March 5th), Alaska (Saturday, March 26th) and Hawaii (Saturday, March 26th) have Presidential Caucuses scheduled on the Saturday, a religious day of observance for many Americans. Unfortunately, these states do not appear to offer surrogate affidavit or absentee options which appear to be available in Nebraska, Washington and Wyoming. The lack of these affidavit options effectively makes participation by certain religious groups impossible.
It is my sincere hope that party officials at the state and national level will not allow the disenfranchisement of any American voter, including religiously observant Americans whom the Democratic Party should be forcefully reaching out to.
Gary S. Schaer
Assemblyman, State of New Jersey