D.C. Republicans extend primary hours so Sabbath-observant Jews can vote

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Source: The Washington Post

In D.C., where Republicans are scarce, Orthodox Jews actually are a large enough contingent to potentially affect the outcome of the GOP’s presidential primary that is scheduled for Saturday.

And so when Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld learned the schedule, he was dismayed.

The primary was scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday — a brief six-hour window to vote, falling entirely within the Jewish Sabbath.

For observant Jews such as Herzfeld’s congregants at Ohev Sholom, the 16th Street NW Orthodox congregation that calls itself the National Synagogue, voting is basically prohibited on the Sabbath. Orthodox Jews don’t travel by cars or public transportation, use electronics, spend money or even write on the Sabbath — so they don’t vote on the day of rest.

Herzfeld went straight to the D.C. Republican Party to demand a change. He has gone to court over the timing of an election in the past, and he threatened to do so again. “Primaries and caucuses should not be scheduled at a time that disadvantages people,” he said.

On Monday, he got his way.

Patrick Mara, executive director of the D.C. Republican Party, said the party will keep the polls open until 9 p.m., late enough to wait until the Sabbath ends after dark and then head to the polls. “We don’t want to exclude anyone who can’t, obviously, vote for religious reasons,” Mara said. “We’ve tried to be as accommodating as possible.”

The new extended hours are just for those registered Republicans who sign a document attesting that they are observant Jews, Mara said. Anyone else still has to vote before 4 p.m.

Mara said the party can’t afford to rent the large ballroom at the Loews Madison Hotel, where it will be set up during the scheduled voting hours, for the extended hours. The extended voting will take place in a smaller room at the hotel at 1177 15th Street NW.

Absentee voting is also very limited, again because of cost considerations, Mara said. Only members of the military serving abroad, disabled veterans and, now, observant Jews will be allowed to cast absentee ballots. Mara said the party would not make exceptions for those who have to work from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, those who cannot leave their homes because of illness or those who are out of town on the day.

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