While the Hebrew Bible and subsequent Rabbinic sacred texts predate Western democracy by many centuries, Jewish tradition offers strong support for the core principles that undergird just election law and universal enfranchisement. The opening of the book of Genesis declares that every human being is created in the divine Image, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion and socio-economic status.
While this magnificent ideal is far from perfectly fulfilled in practice — much like the all-too-often unrealized vision of equality in our nation’s Declaration of Independence — it certainly points the way toward voting rights for all citizens.
It should be no surprise, then, that the Talmud teaches “a ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted,” and the leading 16th Century Jewish legal scholar Rabbi Moses Isserles adds that an election’s legitimacy depends upon full and fair opportunity for all eligible voters to cast ballots. Subsequent sages have consistently declared election results invalid if authorities inhibited eligible citizens from exercising their vote.
In other words, voting is a sacred right and responsibility.
Unfortunately, most current Republican policymakers seem to have concluded that the only way their party can win elections is by disenfranchising voters, especially those from minority groups. Using the bogus pretext of voter fraud, Republican politicians across the country are pushing measures to make it more difficult for countless Americans to cast their ballots — even though study after study has shown that the only real corruption around our elections is the Republicans’ false allegations to suit their cynical political purposes.
Even here in Idaho, where Republicans enjoy an overwhelming supermajority and control every statewide office, Republican legislators are hellbent on diminishing democracy. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle baldly admitted as much, proclaiming “voting shouldn’t be easy.” In that misanthropic spirit, Idaho Republicans are seeking to criminalize ballot collection, invalidate mail-in voting, narrow voter ID options, and restrict citizen-led ballot initiatives. Why are they so afraid of the will of the people?
These tactics pose an existential threat to our democratic institutions. As Maria Isabel Rosario of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action presciently writes: “If we do not fight voter suppression, we could find ourselves living in a world where justice is replaced by oppression and equality is forgotten. We believe in voting because no person or group has the right to impose their own political ideology or policies on us outside of the democratic process on which this nation was built. And we passionately believe that the voice of every individual deserves to be heard.”
While democracy is a relatively modern institution, its success is inextricably bound with the best and brightest ideas at the heart of the Hebrew Scriptures. That’s why I am convinced that efforts to disenfranchise citizens — especially people of color — are not just bad politics, but also are a callous betrayal of basic human dignity and an affront to the One who made us in Her image.
Dan Fink is the rabbi for the Ahavath Beth Israel congregation. The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.