Home > Bold Faith Type > Observant Jews Effectively Barred from Nevada Caucuses

Observant Jews Effectively Barred from Nevada Caucuses

January 11, 2008, 11:46 am | Posted by katie

We’ve been drawing attention this week to the fact that the media-sponsored exit polls in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary only asked Republicans if they are evangelicals — effectively rendering Democratic evangelical primary voters invisible. But at least they got to cast their votes.

Religious Jews in Nevada will have to choose between voting and practicing their faith on January 19, the day of the Republican and Democratic Nevada caucuses. January 19 is a Saturday and the caucuses will be held at 9 and 11:30 am — during morning religious services for observant Jews.

As my friend Melissa Boteach, Poverty Campaign Coordinator at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs writes:

January 19th is one of the most important contests in the Democratic and Republican quests for their parties’ nomination for the presidency. It is also Shabbat.

This year, the Nevada Democratic and Republican parties have decided to hold their primary caucuses on a Saturday, with citizens required to report by 11:30 and 9:00 AM respectively, right during morning religious services. When I called the political parties in Nevada to inquire as to whether or not there were measures being taken to help accommodate those observant Jews who wished to participate in the caucuses, I received mixed results. A young Jewish woman at the Nevada Democratic Party told me that they had tried to put caucus-sites near religious neighborhoods and synagogues so that people could walk; precinct captains would be educated about the need to write down information on behalf of observant Jews instead of asking them to sign-in and write themselves. A gentleman at the Nevada Republican Party told me that the party was not even aware of the problem, but promised to make an effort to educate precinct captains on the issue. Neither had an adequate answer as to why the caucuses had to take place on a Shabbat morning.

Nevada has one of the fastest growing Jewish populations in the country, and its 65,000-80,000 Jewish community members are expected to have a disproportionate impact on the results.

On January 19th, Nevada’s observant Jews will be asked to make a false choice between practicing their Judaism and participating in a defining American moment. To all Americans, not just American Jews, this should be seen as a disappointment.

This is unacceptable in American democracy. Has anyone seen media coverage of this beyond the Jewish press? Where’s the outrage?


40 Responses to “Observant Jews Effectively Barred from Nevada Caucuses”

  1. BJ says:

    OK here is some outrage. How can people let superstition prevent them from voting?

  2. mommadona says:

    Welcome to the real world.

    It’s a secular nation.

    You have free will.

    Exercise it.

  3. mommadona says:


    I am unable to go to the polls on election day, how can I vote?

    You may request an absent ballot or vote during early voting.

    How do I get an absent ballot for the upcoming elections?

    An absent ballot may be obtained from the County Clerk/Registrar of Voters in the county in which you reside. Please contact their office for details.

    When is early voting?

    Early voting for the Primary Election is July 26 through August 8, 2008. Early voting for the General Election is October 18 through October 31, 2008.

  4. Dan says:

    The early voting to which you refer applies to the Congressional primary, not the presidential caucus. Notice that the early voting period begins six months from now.

  5. Wyoming? says:

    What? Are there no Republican Jews in Wyoming? Wyoming’s Republican caucus was on a Saturday too and no one saw that to be a problem then.

    Furthermore, what about 7th Day Adventists? Saturday is their Sabbath too.

  6. Gitai says:

    Ew. The disrespect shown by certain people in the comments thread is just sickening. They’re no better than the fundamentalist Christians that look down on them.

  7. Tim says:

    What would happen if the two parties set their caucuses for 9am and 11:30am on Sunday? How many churchgoing Christians would participate?

  8. Chris says:

    So you are saying that people who choose to take part in phony rituals instead of exercising their democratic rights won’t be voting? Not seeing the downside.

    That’s a good idea about having these things on a Sunday though, to keep fundamentalist wackos at bay in the future.

  9. Jason says:

    There’s an alternative. It incoveniences observant Jews, but it’s there. I don’t see a problem. As an atheist, it never fails to amuse when people of a faith feel discriminated against, when in fact they life is being made somewhat more difficult or inconvenient due to choices THEY made. I didn’t know observing was supposed to be convenient.

  10. koshembos says:

    Some of the comments are disgusting. For the religiously uninterested, the Sabbath (Christian or Jewish) made us all work 6 instead of 7 days. It even may have started the unions.

  11. Beth says:

    Of course people serious about their faith don’t expect observing to be “convenient.” But this isn’t about convenience. It’s about the constitutionally protected right to freely practice one’s religion.

  12. Jason says:

    Really? 6 day work week? Those of us who aren’t believers aren’t going to give the pious a pat on the back for a shortened work week given the fact that we (at least I) lay the blame for most wars and lots of generally bad stuff throughout history at the feet of religion. Try another tack.

    “It’s about the constitutionally protected right to freely practice one’s religion.”

    Which is not being infringed. Again, choice. Which I can assure you all of my Jewish friends would exercise by either voting absentee or biting the bullet and breaking Sabbath. Countless elections, primaries, caucii (I think I just made that up) cannot be set up to account for the needs of the hundreds of religions in this country.

  13. Beth says:

    You can’t caucus absentee:


    We wouldn’t object if that was an option.

  14. nicko says:

    Having wasted hours of my youth in Hebrew school that would have been better spent in secular studies of some sort, I would seem to be uninclined towards sympathy; however, given the absolute certainty that an analogous situation barring evangelical christians from participating would be met with an outcry loud enough to bring Jesus back from the dead (that is, if he weren’t fictional), this ‘disenfranchisement’ is alarming.

  15. J.Kris says:

    You mean “self-barred” from the caucuses, right?

    And it certainly is about convenience, not about freely practicing your relgion. Who is stopping you from exercising your religion?

    Should be ban the use of electronic voting machines because it would “prevent” the Amish from practicing their religion?

    If my religion celebrates a holy day on the first tuesday after the first monday in November, should the rest of the country delay the general election?

  16. Stephen Couchman says:

    This is absolutely a church/state issue. Fine, it’s inconvenient to a subset of American Jews that government is grinding on with or without their involvement (and the choice is absolutely theirs). On the other hand, no power in this nation may legislate that they should be imprisoned or exterminated for those beliefs. You can’t have it both ways. If you have to, look at it as a test of faith: this is a turning point in our history, with major issues of social justice at stake. You can unbendingly adhere to the letter of your dogma, or you can ask yourself what the man or woman of wisdom should be guided to do under these circumstances. Simple choice, really.

  17. melanie says:

    Is it a foregone conclusion that all Orthodox Jews will vote for Hillary? If so, why is that? Is it her support for the Iraq War? Something else?

  18. res2000 says:

    Why couldn’t they just have scheduled the NV caucuses at 7:00 PM on Saturday. That would be after sundown, eliminated any conflict with the practices of observant Jews, and more importantly, who the hell is up at 9 in the morning on a Saturday in Las Vegas anyway ??

  19. Paul Brower says:

    A nation founded upon religious neutrality must accommodate every significant tradition even against political convenience. Judaism is a significant tradition in American life.

    So far this electoral cycle looks like a tight race, at least within the primaries.

    It would be wrong to hold caucuses during Sunday services (including choir practice) for Christians, Friday prayers for Muslims, or Wednesday prayer meetings. For some, religion is far more important than a tee time or a favored TV show. Someone who can’t give up a TV program or a tee time to participate in politics has little stake in the system. Religion? Far different.

    Just as identifiable ethnic minorities can swing the vote in a key election (Native Americans probably swung the 2006 Senatorial election in Montana and the partisan composition of the Senate), so can religious minorities. In this election, every vote counts.

  20. Rick Turner says:

    So no Friday, no Saturday, no Sunday, no Wednesday… Let’s see, there are Yoga classes on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, so how about no caucuses and no elections? That’ll make it all OK, right?

    What constitutes a “significant tradition”? I’ll bet that every “minority” in the US considers his or her tradition significant. How about Sicilian? Micronesian? Malian? Luxembourgian? Vatican? My ancestral home on the moors of Northumbrian lands?

  21. JF says:

    These comments show just how narrow-minded people can be. Given that God has become a sort of litmus test for political candidates, it seems that the political process could respect the major religions day of worship when it comes to something as significant as choosing a president. For the record, a website on Jewish issues had this to say about whether Joe Lieberman was violating the prohibition against working on the Sabbath by voting in the senate on Saturdays:

    “Regarding attending meetings on Shabbat: In general, Shabbat talk should be in the “Shabbat spirit.” Weekday talk should be avoided and planning weekday activities is basically forbidden. But mitzvah matters and matters of public concern are exceptions; you are allowed to discuss on Shabbat matters relating to mitzvot and matters which affect the public good, even if the discussion doesn’t seem to be in the “Shabbat spirit.” So, a Jew may participate in a public meeting on Shabbat in order to advance the public good, provided he performs no forbidden acts such as driving, writing, etc.”

    I hope every temple in Nevada arranges for a Shabbes Goy to drive their members to the local caucus. What could be more for the public good than electing someone who respects ALL religions, not just evangelical Christianity.

  22. Carolyn says:

    I agree with the concern for observant Jews not able to participate because of Shabbat. Yet as a Jewish Christian i studied the Torah or Old Testament Bible even God told Moses to stop praying and move! in order to enter the Promised land…so my Jewish brothers and sisters if you want to have a say in who leads this country and who ultimately will make major advancements towards a peaceful Israel…stop praying and move! as God instructed Moses and the children of Israel …vote for Barack which means blessed in Hebrew! God is not in the punishing game…he is in the blessing game…”I will come and bless those that bless you. God Bless

  23. Philip Madlem says:

    Cheese’s Rice! Is it going to kill some Jewish people to not go to religious service for one day? Wait is it the forgiving god or the angry god that is worshipped by Jewish people? Vote or pray that something changes in the government, its the same thing in this day and age.

  24. Brendan says:

    It’s a matter of priorities: Are you a Jewish American or are you an American Jew?

    God, if he exists, will not turn his back on you for all-time if you skip synagogue to vote.

  25. AgathaX says:

    So the alternative is what? Have voting on a weekday when most people are working in 9-5 jobs? At night when service people are working at all of the restaurants and casinos?

    Clearly people scheduling the caucus looked at the calendar and determined that Saturday mornings are when the greatest number of people will be available to caucus.

    It’s one thing to tell the citizenry, knock yourself out, go practice your religion. It’s another thing to alter a civil election process to exclude large numbers of working folks to prevent religious folks from missing a single service.

    Certainly the present process is not set in stone. Nevadans can revisit the process to determine whether another system might exclude even fewer people. In the mean time, if strict adherance to attendance at religious services is more important than civic participation, the choice is made. Personally, I do not lament the exclusion of those with such a rigid perspective. Government seldom benefits from such rigidity. On the other hand, I would very much regret the loss of participation by people who had to work.

  26. An Independent Thinker says:

    Good! if you are stupid enough to blindly believe in a made up entity then you are doing a public good by not voting.

  27. blony says:

    Much ado about nothing much. The government should neither know nor care about the practices of the various religious groups (as long as they are not directly harming anyone). Folks make trade-offs because of scheduling conflicts all the time. What’s to keep folks from changing the time of their religious meetings on that day?

  28. RuthieM says:

    I agree. Where’s the outrage?? How in the world could Nevada do such a thing, disenfranchise voters? Whether they be Jewish or anything else, this should’ve been taken into consideration. Of course Nevada knows that saturday is the Jewish sabbath. So what now? An entire people get snuffed out of voting. Something should be done about this and immediately so the Jewish people can vote! Hm, why is this now only being publicized?

  29. POMAM says:

    As a resident of Nevada, I can tell you that the caucus process is unfair to all. It is a remnant of old politics when bosses controlled the environment. Nevada will not spend the money to hold an actual election where people can exercise their free choice. That being said, I will be at my precinct on Saturday to do my part.

  30. aznew says:

    Wow. The ignorance of some commenters on this thread is astounding. Just for the record, for observant Jews, it is not really a choice to observe Shabbat, but an obligation that is intimately tied to their Judaism. While certain prohibited activities are permitted on Shabbat for superceding reasons, like saving a life, for example, Shabbat is considered of high significance for Jews, and observance is as spiritually important as it is for major holidays like Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanna.

    This is quite independent from the issue of whether the scheduling of the caucuses at this time is proper or not. Arguably, the schedule is certain to inconvenience some people no matter when it is set for, but people who do not know what they are talking about should not triavialize what is a very important of one’s religious observance, IMHO.


    And Shabbat shalom.

  31. Wondering says:

    If you are concerned (and of course you should be), why just call and passively ask what the groups plan to do? Sure, it makes a better entry here, but what does it do for you? Why aren’t you actively working to find a solution?

    You should tell them what you need and offer to help make it happen. Stop acting like a victim and make your voice heard.

    It is either important to you or not. If it is, be part of the solution. If not, keep complaining and do nothing as you seem content to do.

  32. myob says:

    Some of these commentators obviously don’t know their facts.

    Which facts, you ask?


    What makes it worse is that I more or less share their beliefs… just not their rudeness and disrespect for those who don’t.

    But some Jews may just have to suck it up, as unfortunate as it is. I don’t see why it has to be done on one day only, but bureaucracy was never about making sense, only efficiency (that’s why I don’t like it very much).

  33. Jonathan J says:

    I’ve found many comments on this story enlightening.

    However, it seems to me that a rather obvious solution has mostly been overlooked.

    As has been pointed out, it’s likely that scheduling an important event at one particular time will necessarily inconvenience (at least) one group or another.

    So why not just schedule more than one time for the caucus to take place? (for example, one time on each of the two days of the weekend — but pretty much any arrangement is conceivable).

    If we live in a society that:

    1) is fundamentally secular

    2) nevertheless is also fundamentally based on respect for minority groups

    3) and most importantly, holds most dear the idea of democracy and participation in the process thereof

    then it seems to me rather clear that reasonable effort (including expenditure of public funds) should be undertaken to try and make the democratic process available to as many citizens as possible, no matter what their other beliefs or associations. In the case of this upcoming caucus in Nevada then, I think public officials should spend their effort, and public money, to try and make caucus participation possible at more than one time.

    Overall, and in the end analysis, this will benefit people who work, people who identify with a particular faith — etc. Overall, this benefits the democratic process, and what can be more important than that?

    As an aside, all this could be obviated by a technological solution, which is internet-based voting, which obviously negates issues of temporal and geographical barriers. Equally obvious is that this technological solution has many obstacles to surmount, most notably matters of security and privacy, and thus remains some years off. These are technological, not ideological or other fundamental problems though, and we are smart people in this country and can figure out solutions to problems when we want to.

    The Nevada caucus is in just five days. I’m not an official in Nevada and don’t know if it would be logistically possible between now and then to setup an additional time (e.g. on Friday, or Sunday, or Friday and Sunday) for folks to go and participate in the democratic process. If it is, they should get on it. If it isn’t, then all those interested in the idea of democracy should work to ensure that the caucus process next time around is more widely available.

    This matter, though it will be concluded in an immediate sense one way or another in five days’ time, is also a warm-up for November: this country, despite its frequent avowal of allegiance to democratic principles, has had huge problems of electoral access in past elections, and it is not at all too early to start (or in some cases, continue) doing the work necessary to make voting as broadly available as possible. Again, in this endeavor, we all win.

    Respectfully submitted,

    Jonathan J

  34. Jason says:

    “You can’t caucus absentee:


    We wouldn’t object if that was an option.”

    If you believe the collective “we” would not be complaining anyway I have a bridge in metro NYC that I’m willing to part with on the cheap.

  35. WOW,I had no idea there were so many Jews in Nevada! First of all to the Athiest-some people choose to become Jewish, but most of us were born Jews. So, it is not a matter of choice. To the Jewish Cristian- Thanks for the Humor! (you are kidding, right?)To all of the ingnorant people-I am jelous, Ignorance is bliss..and last but certainly not least to my people-PLEASE go to Temple and pray that the Messiach comes before the presidential election!

    In this country it is said “One Nation under G-d”

    The money is printed with “In G-d we Trust” Lets invoke the force! Make them eat their words!

  36. Ken says:

    I think many of the comments here are extremely unfortunate, at best. For an observant Jew, to not travel in a vehicle or write on the Sabbath is a matter of religious law. Many (though not all) Seventh-Day Adventists similarly would not participate in an electoral caucus during their Sabbath.

    It is probably true that to force an observer to choose between religious observance and participation in the democratic process is an unconstitutional infringement upon the right of free practice.

  37. Rob says:

    As an observant Jew, I would like to apologize to all Fundamentalists who may view these comments. I am amazed at the bigotry of Beth and company. It goes to show us all how dangerous self-hatred can be. It also shows us how important yet rare tolerance and pluralism really are.

    FWIW, we do not live in a “Secular” nation, we live in a “Pluralistic” nation, and there is a huge difference between the two. If you don’t know the difference — learn it.


  38. Carmelita Sanchez says:

    Voting should be convenient. To make a choice between one’s lifelong observations, and casing a ballot is a lousy choice to make. What a ridiculous position to attack an entire group of people for traditions they have held for thousands of years.

    Plain and simple, there should have been provisions made. Keep your eyes on the ball people, and put down the hate stick for a second.

  39. ric says:

    hi I think many of the comments here are extremely unfortunate, at best. For an observant Jew, to not travel in a vehicle or write on the Sabbath is a matter of religious law. Many (though not all) Seventh-Day Adventists similarly would not participate in an electoral caucus during their Sabbath thamks.

  40. ric says:

    hello think many of the comments here are extremely unfortunate, at best. For an observant Jew, to not travel in a vehicle or write on the Sabbath is a matter of religious law. Many (though not all) Seventh-Day Adventists similarly would not participate in an electoral caucus during their Sabbath Thanks.