Tzedek Project: Voting in pursuit of justice

“I’m too busy.”

“I don’t know enough about the candidates.”

“My vote won’t count.”

We’ve all heard these excuses for failing to vote, some from family, some from friends or acquaintances. The quasi-reasons annoy me or infuriate me, depending on the context. Voting has been around for centuries. Why should it be a problem for members of an organized society to vote for local, regional or national candidates for office? Why should we not care enough to educate ourselves, make time to go to the polls, or understand that one person’s vote does count?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, voting is “an act of expressing a formal indication of choice.” Choice. We make choices every day. We should be able to make choices on the days set aside for voting.

Where does voting come from? The ancient Greeks established a system of voting but only for property-owning members of the upper classes. Immigrants, women, and slaves were not allowed this privilege. Sound familiar? Voting was held only in public. The Romans later introduced the concept of secret ballots. These early foundations can be seen in the development of modern democracies.

The United States Constitution in 1787 repeated the process established in 1776 by the Declaration of Independence of only allowing white male property owners to vote. The Constitution further left it to the states and their legislatures to establish voting methods. Years passed before Black citizens, women, Native Americans, non-English speakers, and citizens between the ages of 18 to 21 could vote. None of this came easily.

Some countries have made the process of voting easier for its citizens. Sweden has an automatic enrollment system; Australians have compulsory voting; Estonia has an online voting system. The most interesting system appears to be in Gambia, in western Africa, where voters place marbles into a drum.

Plurality or winner-take-all voting is not the only method used to cast votes. The current New York City mayoral race is using ranked-choice voting, which allows voters to vote for the candidates as first choice, second choice, etc. Fargo, North Dakota has been using approval voting in their municipal elections since June of last year: voters cast ballots for as many candidates as they wish. The candidate with the most votes then wins. Some countries other than the United States use proportional representation, involving casting votes for parties rather than individuals.

So what is it about voting in this country that produces so much consternation? Have we forgotten those who fought, marched, and died to be able to vote?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein has been called the most famous Orthodox Jewish legal scholar of the 20th century. Here is his admonition from a 1984 letter:

On reaching the shores of the United States, Jews found a safe haven. The rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights have allowed us the freedom to practice our religion without interference and to live in this republic in safety. A fundamental principal of Judaism is hakarat hatov, recognizing benefits afforded us and giving expression to our appreciation. Therefore, it is incumbent upon each Jewish citizen to participate in the democratic system which guards the freedoms we enjoy.

The most fundamental responsibility incumbent on each individual is to register and to vote. By this, we can express our appreciation and contribute to the continued security of our community.

Suggest that to your friends who say they won’t vote.

Tzedek, tzedek tirdof l’maan tichyeh” – Justice, justice you shall pursue, that you may live…


Audrey Brooks is an Emeritus Judicial Member, State Bar of Wisconsin, lifelong volunteer, and current Tucson Hebrew Academy Board Trustee.