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Voter Education: Baltimore Election Results

Posted on June 12th, 2020 by

Despite multiple setbacks, election results for Maryland’s primary election have mostly be decided. This election was difficult from the start, as the state decided to hold it mainly via absentee ballot, to help protect people from spreading the coronavirus. With the majority of people voting by mail, results were expected to be delayed, but things only grew more complicated when a misprint was discovered on ballots in District 1. While it only affected a small portion of absentee ballots, the problem further delayed any results for the whole state. However, the voter turnout rate seems to have increased, with at least 35,000 people voting via absentee ballot who had not voted in the last three primaries. Baltimore and Maryland, and indeed many places like Georgia still face voter suppression issues as polling places are limited, especially in predominately black neighborhoods. However, voting by mail was an incredibly popular option this year. Putting the ballot directly into people’s hands makes voting more accessible and immediate, despite the delays that collecting mail-in ballots cause.

An image of two envelopes addressed to the Baltimore City Board of Elections. A logo indicates that this is "Official Election Mail".

In Maryland, absentee ballot envelopes are prepaid, making them even more accessible for voters to send back to their board of elections.

With all this said, the results of some of the closest races in Baltimore, such as city council positions and Mayor, have been officially decided. As of June 10th, Brandon Scott won the Democratic nomination for Mayor, Nick Mosby has been declared the winner of the Democratic race for City Council President, and Bill Henry has won the Democratic nomination for Comptroller. For the most part, in a city where Democrats outrank Republicans significantly, these positions are decided during the primary, though the election in November, where these Democratic candidates face off against their Republican counterparts. For a full list of candidates and winners from the primaries throughout the state, visit the State Board of Elections website.

A picture of Brandon Scott, a black man wearing a suit and tie, standing outside. There are buildings out of focus in the background. The text on the image reads: "From the bottom of my heart: Thank you! Brandon Scott".

Brandon Scott’s Thank You image from his official Twitter account. The mayoral race, in particular, was incredibly close, but Scott eventually won the vote as the absentee ballots were finally tallied.

But where does that leave all of us for November? The upcoming election is still incredibly important, not only as it will decide the presidency, but also because issues of voter suppression and disenfranchisement are only highlighted during this global pandemic. With the very likely possibility that we will see the second wave of coronavirus outbreaks, possibly in the fall, the November elections might be conducted similarly to the primaries. Maryland State Board of Elections may decide to send out absentee ballots to everyone again, with the option to vote in person or drop off ballots at certain sites. However, as we all know so well, nothing is certain and it’s impossible to guess what voting will look like by November. So, it’s important to prepare for anything.

First, voting by mail is a legal and legitimate way to vote. Absentee voting is fairly simple in Maryland, as we discussed in one of our first Voter Education blog posts. You can request an absentee ballot online, as long as you have an MVA ID, or via mail with a printable form. If you’re not from Maryland, research how to request an absentee ballot, as voting by mail may be a very important tool if the coronavirus has not subsided by November. Whether you are part of an at-risk group, live with someone who may be at a higher risk of infection, or you simply want to play it safe, absentee voting is incredibly important in a time of a pandemic, and an important accessibility resource for those who are unable to vote in person regardless of the virus.

People stand in line outside, most of them wearing face masks that cover their noses and mouths. The line of people stretches far into the distance, and it's impossible to see the end.

The lines to vote in Georgia stretched on and on, leaving people to wait for six, seven, eight, or more hours to vote. Image via Bloomberg.

Educate yourself about voter suppression and disenfranchisement. With such a stark example in Georgia this week, learning about and opposing voter suppression is more relevant than ever. We must protect every person’s right to vote, and that starts with raising awareness of the issue. And then, start pressuring lawmakers and boards of elections to change the voting process to make it more accessible and available to everyone. If you want some tips on advocacy, check out our previous blog post to get you started towards making change in the world.

Finally, remember that voting is not the end of your civic duty. Remember how officials are reacting to the uprisings right now, how they are responding to the demands of protestors. Watch your legislators, as they vote on budgets for the city, for police, for education and social services. What change do you want to see in the world? It’s your right to demand that the government works for you, or else the current system will be dismantled; as the Declaration of Independence states:

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”


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Voter Education: Getting Involved

Posted on May 22nd, 2020 by

We’ve covered requesting an absentee ballot, how to educate yourself to prepare to vote, and even what to do at the polling place. But what if you want to be more involved in the political process, not just at the voting booth? Or maybe there’s a particular issue or law that you want people to pay attention to. Getting involved in local politics, through advocacy work, is an amazing way to amplify your voice and the needs of your community. And it’s easier than most people think!

Advocacy and lobbying can be done individually, as anyone can call their representatives, send letters and emails, and even appear in at meetings, such as town halls or legislative sessions. If you’re not sure where to start with your advocacy work, there are lots of groups that provide guidance and organization, based on who they represent, certain issues, or another unifying feature. You can start by connecting people from your synagogue or church, who may be working together to advocate for the local community. Or there may be specific issues that have brought people together, such as development over a particular part of your neighborhood. If you follow and support certain national organizations, like the ACLU, there are often local chapters that are doing lobbying work to ensure the rights of the people they protect. As you research these avenues, you may find an organization that fits closely with your beliefs and values. Finding a support network this way, as you embark into advocacy is incredibly helpful, as they have the resources and know-how to help you use your voice effectively.

Working together with a group or organization is essential for coordinating your efforts and being efficient. Here Callie Cochan, Phil Casponeschi, and Edward Rosenfeld hold up signs supporting Equal Opportunity in Employment. JMM 1998.147.004.001

Whether you have guidance from an organization or not, letting your local legislators know what is incredibly important. Local leaders especially are mindful of their constituents, as they know that their next election depends on the opinions of the people and can be determined by a very small margin. Keeping their constituents happy and secure in their choice of leader is a legislator’s responsibility, and so they want to hear what you need from them. This can be done in a few different ways.

Local politicians are always looking for support from their constituents. That gives you the power to influence their decisions! In this image, women from Baltimore county hold signs showing their support of their governor. JMM 2012.054.116.044

You can always email your representatives directly. Their email addresses should be listed on your state’s government website. If you live in Maryland, you can find the State Senate emails here and the State House of Delegates’ emails here. You can also use that website to find the County Council from your area and their contact information. Emails are useful for people who are uncomfortable speaking on the phone or who cannot send physical letters to their representatives. However, sending an email is not as effective as these other methods, as it can easily be ignored, especially if the representative has a lot of emails in their inbox.

Calling a representative’s office is a really direct way to communicate what you want them to do. When making a phone call, try to connect to a person, rather than leaving a voicemail. Like an email, a voicemail is easier to ignore than a live person on the line. When reaching the office, ask for the representative, rather than speaking to an aide, so that they can hear from you directly. If that isn’t possible, make sure to speak to an aide who is working on the issues you’re concerned with. Making a phone call like this can daunting for some, but remember, taking these calls and considering your concerns is your representative’s job. This is what they were elected for, and they are obligated to listen to you.

If calling is not for you, but you still want to make an impact, handwriting a letter is another effective way to get your voice heard. When you write your letter, make sure to plan out time for it to get mailed to your representative, especially if you are addressing an upcoming vote. You can always drop the letter off directly (just make sure to check local guidelines on access to government buildings, especially during this time). A handwritten letter makes a statement of the time and effort you put into addressing the issue. It shows that you really care and will take the time to share your concerns.

Two men sit at a table writing. Getting your friends to also write letters can make your position even stronger! JMM 1993.052.183

A combination of those three methods is a great way to reach out to your local representative. When communicating in any way to local government, remember a few tips. Make sure to prepare your message before calling or sending it along. The action you want them to take should be clear, such as asking them not to vote on a bill, and you should add your personal connection to the issue. Let them know why it’s so important that they don’t vote on the bill. If you have trouble with creating a message, you can ask the local organization that you’re working with, as they’re sure to come up with a form letter that people can use and adapt to fit their personal story.

Also, remember to focus your messaging on your representatives. Your opinion won’t be as impactful to legislators outside your district or area, so it’s not worth putting your energy towards changing their actions. However, there are some exceptions to this, such as when there is a big, national law being voted on. Work with local and national organizations, to find out where you can make the most impact but stay focused on local issues.

To take it a step further, you can show up in person (or in a virtual meeting) to show legislators you care. Attending town halls and other similar meetings are a great way to find out more about a legislator’s plans for the upcoming political session and to ask them questions or to take action. When preparing to attend a town hall, work with the local organizing groups, so that you’re not going alone. A crowd of people, maybe all wearing the same color or the same shirt, asking about a particular issue will place a lot of pressure on a representative to listen to them. You should also prepare your questions ahead of time, again, making it clear what action you want the representative to take. Keep the questions short and clear, while still adding your personal spin. Keeping it personal will make the legislator see how important the issue is to you and that they need to consider your feelings.

There are lots of other ways to get more involved in politics, such as writing op-eds, attending protests, and donating money. Hopefully, this is just the start of your involvement in your community and the future you want to see!


 

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Maryland’s “Jew Bill”

Posted on May 15th, 2020 by

Today we’re using our Voter Education blog to dive back into history and to talk about the Jew Bill in Maryland. This bill was a big turning point for Jewish communities in Maryland and Baltimore and changed the trajectory of Jewish involvement and engagement with public life. This bill changed the way that Jewish Marylanders could participate in government, and therefore advocate for themselves and their communities. To learn more about the Jew Bill, we need to start with the historical context of the time, and why it was so important to get it passed in the Maryland government.

Touro Synagogue, in Newport Rhode Island, is the oldest, still standing synagogue in the US. It was built in 1763.

Until the late 1700s, there weren’t many Jewish families in Maryland. The earliest Jewish immigration to the US in the colonial era was mainly Sephardic Jews or Jewish people from Spanish and Portuguese descent. This included Sephardic Dutch Jews, who settled in Newport and built Touro Synagogue, the oldest surviving synagogue building in the US, as well as those who moved to South Carolina, home of the second oldest synagogue, Beth Elohim. These communities had more tolerance for non-Christians, and so Jewish people were better able to establish themselves. However, some Jewish people did move to Baltimore and Maryland, though they faced particular trouble while trying to create a community.

Looks familiar? This is actually Beth Elohim synagogue in Charleston, South Carolina! Built in 1840, this building also displays the Greek Revival Style that our Lloyd Street Synagogue has.

In 1649, in an attempt to create more religious tolerance, the assembly of the Maryland colony passed the Act Concerning Religion or the Toleration Act. This act provided freedom of religion to Christians who believed in the Trinity, including the Catholic and Protestant members of the community, especially as they exchanged power over the colony. However, those who were non-Christians or did not believe in the divinity of the Trinity could be punished by execution or the seizure of their lands. Despite that this law preceded other laws guaranteeing religious freedom, Jewish people were risking their lives even practicing their religion, so it’s not a surprise that Maryland was not an attractive place to settle down, as a non-Christian.

This image shows the heading of the Tolerance Act, which greatly affected non-Christians.

The shadow of this law continued through the 1700s, to the ratification of the Maryland State Constitution in 1776. In it, the constitution states, “No other test or qualification ought to be required on admission to any office of trust or profit than such oath of support and fidelity to the State… and a declaration of belief in the Christian religion.” Though Jewish people were no longer legally allowed to be executed for their beliefs, they could not serve in municipal or state office, join the military, or practice law. This discrimination made it less appealing for the Jewish community to live in Maryland, and so they decided to act. In 1779, Solomon Etting, who was a well-known Jewish Baltimorean, petitioned the state to amend the constitution, a bill that inspired the eventual “Jew Bill”. The Jewish community took up the cause, petitioning the legislature for the bill’s passage and writing to editors in local and national newspapers.

As this issue grew, state delegate Thomas Kennedy took up the cause, impassioned in his belief in religious freedom, despite never having met someone Jewish before. He introduced “An Act for the relief of the Jews of Maryland” which became known as the “Jew Bill.” Unfortunately, the Federalist Party, a strongly anti-immigrant party, opposed the bill enough to have it fail year after year. However, Kennedy bravely continued to fight for the passage of the bill, despite the negative effect it had on his career. Eventually, he was defeated for re-election in 1823, but he returned to office in 1825, running as an independent. This time, he was able to secure enough votes to pass the Jew Bill in 1826.

Thomas Kennedy, depicted here in profile in a black and white print, did a lot to help the Jewish community. Jewish community members regularly visit his grave to pay their respects.

This made a huge difference for the Jewish community in Maryland, allowing them to finally advocate fully in government. As we know from the history of the Lloyd Street synagogue, more Jewish people were immigrating from German-speaking countries. Having protections such as this law might have been one reason why Nidche Yisrael settled on Lloyd Street, creating Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and the start of our Museum’s story. The effects of this bill are easy to see today, as we have multiple elected officials who identify as Jewish.

This version of the Jew Bill was introduced in 1819. The bill would not become law until seven years later.

Of course, the Bill wasn’t perfect, as it only extended rights to Jews. Other religious minorities did not see legislative protection until 1867 when all religious requirements were taken out of the constitution. However, there is still work to be done to ensure all freedoms for people in our country. Educating yourself about current laws and elections, as well as learning about the past, are all important as your role as a citizen of our country. Tune in next Friday for another opportunity to further your Voter Education!


 

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