(RNS) Moving Iowa’s mid-term caucuses to a Saturday disenfranchises Jewish voters who can’t participate in such events during their Sabbath, according to a letter signed by 18 national Jewish organizations on Friday (Sept. 18).
The complaint about the Jan. 23, 2010 scheduling was sent to Iowa Republican Chairman Matt Strawn and Democratic Chairman Michael Kiernan, who have each said that weeknight caucuses have historically made it difficult for working people and parents to participate in the political process.
The parties have not decided, however, whether the events would be moved to Saturdays permanently, including for the first-in-the-nation 2012 presidential caucus.
There are fewer than 6,500 Jews in Iowa, less than 0.3 percent of the state’s population, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives — and not all of them are registered voters or strict observers of traditional Sabbath prohibitions. But the numbers shouldn’t matter, said Ethan Felson, vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
“One would hope that the people planning this would note that an action that disenfranchises an entire constituency could be avoided,” he said. “There are absentee voting opportunities with other kinds of elections, but you can’t participate in a caucus absentee, or volunteer for your candidate.”
The JCPA successfully advocated to move Nevada’s 2007 caucuses from a Saturday; Jews previously lobbied to have Saturday elections rescheduled in Connecticut, Ohio and elsewhere. Such complaints have been shared by Seventh-day Adventists, who also observe a Saturday Sabbath.
“This issue pops up every now and again,” Felson said. “It’s a matter of bringing it to everyone’s attention, and asking them to change the date.”
More recently, some Jews questioned the Family Research Council’s decision to hold its annual Values Voter Summit during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, Sept. 18-20. The only Jewish Republican in Congress, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., addressed the conference Friday morning, before the holiday began.