Opinion: Lawmakers shouldn’t pursue harmful curbs on voting

12/14/2020 —  Marietta, Georgia — An official Cobb County absentee ballot drop box is displayed outside of the Cobb County Elections and Voter Registration Office in Marietta, Monday, December 14, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
12/14/2020 — Marietta, Georgia — An official Cobb County absentee ballot drop box is displayed outside of the Cobb County Elections and Voter Registration Office in Marietta, Monday, December 14, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

There are few civic obligations with the moral and sacred heft of voting. We likely don’t feel any sense of the sublime when we register our motor vehicle. There is little experience of holiness in renewing our passports or in paying taxes.

Voting is different. We bring our children along with us, we wait in long lines, we wear our stickers proudly, and we post our photos publicly. We use phrases like “civic duty” and “sacred responsibility” in America because the act of voting is imbued with profound significance.

Voting is a sacred act. Every vote is a prayer for the world God envisions. Our great faith traditions relate to this sense of societal responsibility. Each person lends inherent value and has a role to play in co-creating a just and fair society. Ensuring that our democracy remains transparent, accessible, and reliable from beginning to end is paramount to the trust that binds us to one another as “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all”. As public figures sworn by oath to work for the common good, our elected officials should work to make every voter feel confident that their vote matters by ensuring adequate access to free and fair elections.

Rabbi Lydia Medwin
Rabbi Lydia Medwin

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Current proposals like House Bill 531 and many others like it send an unfortunate message to religious communities. How should we understand the desire to limit weekend voting?

Min. leea allen
Min. leea allen

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Credit: contributed

Rev. Matt Laney
Rev. Matt Laney

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Credit: contributed

Saturday-only voting could prohibit many Jewish Georgians from voting. It could demolish the very successful “Souls to the Polls” service provided by many churches – particularly Black congregations – to increase voter accessibility. What should we make of proposed limits to early voting and absentee voting, or additional requirements of voters to prove their eligibility? These restrictions are prone to cause undue hardship and confusion for voters, and could deter them from engaging in the electoral process.

AME Bishop Reginald T. Jackson
AME Bishop Reginald T. Jackson

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Rev. John Vaughn
Rev. John Vaughn

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

How should we interpret the criminalization of “line warming” in which volunteers offer basic necessities like food and water to those waiting for hours in long lines? As people of faith, we are called to care for our communities no matter where they vote or who they vote for. Instead of building confidence in our democracy, bills like HB 531 would have clergy and congregants face prosecution for the the crime of loving their neighbors as themselves.

There are ways to make our voting system more efficient and effective. But legislation which criminalizes the fundamentals of decades-long, hard-fought voting rights strikes at the heart of what it means to be a person of faith. We are a state that promotes the vote for all people, no matter their race or religion.

As faith leaders, we strongly urge our state legislators to oppose these unnecessary measures which are counterproductive to the progress this state has made over the years towards equality and justice.

We remain willing to partner with our legislators to promote faith-friendly alternatives. We look forward to working together to ensure a future where every Georgian’s sacred right to vote is valued and protected.

Rabbi Lydia Medwin, The Temple. Min. leea allen, Virginia-Highland Church. Rev. Matt Laney, pastor, Virginia-Highland Church. Bishop Reginald Jackson, president, African Methodist Episcopal Church 6th episcopal district. Rev. John Vaughn, executive pastor, Ebenezer Baptist Church.

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