If We Don’t Vote – We Don’t Count

Tomorrow is the day.

Election Day, that is.

For thousands of years of galus, Klal Yisrael was subject to the inclinations and whims of the leaders of the societies in which we found ourselves, some of whom were more disposed to treating us fairly, others (most, of course) less so, often considerably less so.

We don’t often enough contemplate how historically unique our situation in the United States is, how fortunate we are that Hakadosh Baruch Hu has allowed us and our recent forebears and our children and grandchildren to be governed by a malchus shel chessed, one that not only endeavors to treat all its citizens equitably but actually allows them to choose their political leaders. We take those facts for granted, but shouldn’t.

Thus, as Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, famously explained, voting is an expression of hakaras hatov. “It is incumbent upon each Jewish citizen,” he wrote, “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.”

Tomorrow, in New York City, the occupants of three posts, mayor, public advocate and comptroller, will be decided by voters. In addition to five borough president positions, all 51 City Council seats, the Brooklyn and Manhattan District Attorney posts and a number of civil court judges and district leader positions.

Statewide, voters will give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to three proposals, including a very important one: A once-in-a-generation vote to open New York State’s foundational document for any number of sweeping changes, by calling for a Constitutional Convention. The opportunity to do so recurs every 20 years; this is year 20.

Supporters of the proposal feel that it is time to bring New York’s Constitution “up-to-date,” by amending elements of the important document that they perceive as not sufficiently in line with contemporary principles. Critics , including Agudath Israel of America, oppose the proposal, concerned that the process could become hostage to special interests, seriously jeopardize many of the existing protections that exist in the current State Constitution, and make major changes in state law that could adversely affect the religious rights of our community.

That issue alone should be sufficient reason for Orthodox Jews in New York to vote tomorrow.

In New Jersey, the governor’s office is in play. The current eight-year occupant of that position, Chris Christie, cannot run again due to term limit rules, and his successor will be dealing with a number of important issues, like property taxes, including the portion of them dedicated to education.

All 120 seats in the state’s legislature are also at stake, and two public questions will also be put before voters.

Virginia, too, will be deciding a gubernatorial race, and more than a dozen cities nationwide, including Boston, Buffalo, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, are holding mayoral elections.

Our community takes the opportunity to vote seriously, a fact that is well-recognized by candidates for office.

Voting, however, is not only a privilege of citizenship. It is an active sign of respect for the country in which we live, and of our gratitude for that brachah.

What is more, as observant Jews, with our own special needs and interests, it is vital that we be perceived by government officials and candidates alike as actual voters, not complacent, unengaged citizens. And in many localities where we live, we make up a sizable portion of the electorate. Note is taken by officials of the turnouts in various districts, and when they see that we are concerted and determined voters, they feel, and rightly so, that our voices are worth listening to.

For a recent example of a responsible state official who chose not to dismiss Orthodox concerns we need look no further than New Jersey Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino, who has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the state against the Township of Mahwah alleging that, in an effort to stave off a feared influx of Orthodox Jewish persons from outside New Jersey, the Township Council approved two unlawfully discriminatory ordinances.

None of us can know what issues of concern to us may present themselves down the road. But, especially with the growth of the community and the attendant challenges in realms like housing and education, we can well imagine that not only on the federal level but on the local and state ones as well — perhaps more so — it will be increasingly important for elected officials to recognize our community’s needs and aspirations, to take our concerns seriously and to be answerable to our community.

The way to help ensure that such will be the case in the future is to act in the present, specifically tomorrow. For if we don’t vote —we don’t count.

Polls in New York and New Jersey open at 6:00 a.m.

Please make certain to vote!