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Jewish High Holidays are of primary importance to fall election calendar

Journal Correspondent

Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin

JANUARY 25, 2018 – BOSTON – In what is shaping up to be a competitive election season, voters will cast their ballots in the 2018 statewide primaries two weeks early to avoid conflict with the Jewish High Holidays.

Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin recently announced that primaries will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 4, the day after Labor Day.  He is also proposing legislation to allow five days of early voting and seeking state funding for local election officials to pay for the cost.

“Given the interest we are already seeing in the primaries and the successful implementation of early voting in the 2016 state election, I believe offering early voting for the state primaries would provide a greater opportunity for voter participation,” Galvin said in a statement.

The primary date was originally scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 18, which conflicted with the start of Yom Kippur at sundown. By state law, Galvin had to move the primary because it conflicts with a religious holiday.  Moving it up by one week, to Tuesday, Sept. 11, would have fallen on the second day of Rosh Hashanah.

Primary voters will be choosing Democratic or Republican candidates for statewide offices, including governor, treasurer, and secretary of state, as well as narrowing the fields for state legislators. In addition, all nine of Massachusetts’ seats in the US Congress will be on the primary ballot. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren is up for reelection and already has several Republican challengers.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker

Governor Charlie Baker, of Swampscott, last November declared he will run for reelection, with several Democrats already on board to challenge him. Congresswoman Niki Tsongas of Lowell is not running for reelection, attracting a large number of candidates for the Third District post that includes a wide swath of the Merrimack Valley.

In the Sept. 4 Democratic primary, Galvin, who has been secretary of state since 1995, will face challenger Josh Zakim, a Boston city councilor and son of the late Jewish civil rights leader Lenny Zakim.

Galvin held a public hearing on Jan. 2 regarding the primary date. His office also received about 50 comments. Among those who weighed in was Robert Trestan, New England regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, who urged Galvin to find an alternative date.

“Because many observant Jews do not write, drive, or use electronics on the Jewish holidays, and in light of the preparation required before the start of Yom Kippur, there is significant concern that … many observing the holiday would not be able to exercise their right to vote,” Trestan wrote in his statement.

In an email to the Journal, Trestan said he was pleased by Galvin’s decision to pursue expanded early voting for the primary, which makes it “easier for everyone to … participate in our democracy and will minimize conflicts with religious holidays.”

Steve Grossman, former state treasurer

The Jewish holidays needed to be addressed, said Steve Grossman, former state treasurer. But he is concerned with the early September primary date.

“It’s the worst possible date to choose,” he told the Journal.

Grossman said voting so early in September could significantly depress voter turnout, when people have been on vacation and with the start of the back-to-school season.

There was no perfect solution, but Grossman would have preferred a Wednesday or Thursday later in September, which he said would have given voters more opportunity to seriously consider the candidates.
In the last statewide primary in 2016, only 11 percent of registered voters went to the polls, according to Galvin’s office.

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, who was reelected in November, said she would welcome more early voting opportunities, including encompassing a weekend, according to Dominick Pangallo, Driscoll’s chief of staff.  The proximity to Labor Day is not expected to present any significant challenges in Salem, Pangallo said in an email.

Logistics are weighing on the minds of some election clerks, who worry about setting up polling places during the long Labor Day weekend, according to Shira Schoenberg, State House reporter for the Springfield Republican and MassLive.com.

Schoenberg told the Journal that while there was widespread agreement of the need to reschedule the election so it didn’t interfere with the Jewish holidays, finding an alternative date proved more challenging. It’s hard to gauge the impact now, as the elections are eight months away and most voters aren’t paying attention, Schoenberg told the Journal in a phone conversation.

“Within my [Orthodox] Jewish community, if the primaries had been held on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, people would have been upset,” Schoenberg said, noting that many of her Jewish friends are politically active. “It’s important for them to get to the polls.”

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