Almost nine months ago, I was part of a class-action lawsuit against the District of Columbia because the District had scheduled a special election that coincided with the Jewish holiday of Passover.
As Orthodox Jews we would not be able to vote on the scheduled election day. Although the city offered us absentee ballots, we felt that the city’s demand that we use an absentee ballot to vote was in fact placing a heavier burden upon us to vote than on other people.
The city claimed that they had no flexibility in the matter since the law stated that a special election would have to be held on the first Tuesday that came 114 days after a vacancy is declared.
So with the help of two attorneys, Steve Lieberman and Sharon Davis, from the firm Rothwell Figg Ernst and Manbeck, we went to court to press this issue.
The reason we felt strongly about the need to litigate the matter is because we believe deeply that the right to vote is one of the most precious rights a citizen can have. We as citizens cannot take that right for granted and we as a community must do everything possible to enable the greatest number of people to vote without any unnecessary obstacles.
So the District’s attorneys and our lawyers came to a sensible solution, which is a win for the mayor, a win for our class-action suit, and most importantly, a win for the citizens of the District. It is a solution that in a limited capacity grants the city greater flexibility in scheduling an election and yet does not violate the Constitution by unduly favoring religion.
The solution is that Mayor Vincent Gray will recommend legislation to the council that will require it, when scheduling an election, to “provide the largest opportunity for voter participation ... based on a totality of the circumstances, taking into account, inter alia, cultural and religious holidays.”
It is a simple but necessary reform to the city’s election laws, and I am grateful to Mayor Gray for his leadership on this issue.
Shmuel Herzfeld is a rabbi at Ohev Sholom Synagogue in the District.
Read more stories from area faith leaders at On Faith/Local.