District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray Acts to Protect Voting Rights of Religious Voters and Expand Voter Participation in Special Elections, Settling Federal Lawsuit Brought by Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld over the Scheduling of a Special Election on Passover
Washington, D.C. – January 11, 2012 – Bringing resolution to a lawsuit filed to ensure the voting rights of D.C. residents, Mayor Vincent Gray will introduce and support legislation to the D.C. Council within three months that will give the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics more flexibility in scheduling elections. The legislation to be introduced by Mayor Vincent Gray would instruct the District of Columbia Board of Elections to schedule special elections on dates that will provide for the largest voter participation, including considering whether election dates conflict with voter observance of religious or cultural holidays. The proposed change to the law governing how special elections are scheduled responds to the conflict that arose between observance of the Jewish holiday of Pesach (Passover) and the special election held to fill an at-large D.C. Council seat and two Board of Education seats on April 26, 2011. By introducing and supporting this legislation, Mayor Gray resolves a lawsuit brought by Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of the District's Ohev Shalom Talmud Torah, challenging the District's scheduling of elections on dates on which observant Jews are unable to vote.
"By taking the necessary steps to avoid forcing voters to have to choose between full exercise of their voting rights and their religious practices, Mayor Gray is showing that the District of Columbia recognizes and respects the fundamental rights of all of its citizens" said Herzfeld. At an initial hearing concerning the lawsuit, United States District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, declined to require that the April 2011 special election be rescheduled, but stated that, "the Government seems to me ought to be big enough to say we made a mistake. We made a mistake but we want to rectify it because that would be consistent with a full and true appreciation of the voting rights of a significant class of voters in this city," and further stated that he had "no doubt" the District of Columbia's scheduling of special elections in the future would take into account religious holidays to avoid a reoccurrence of the conflict that led to the filing of the lawsuit. "We are pleased that Judge Sullivan's prediction that there will be no future conflicts between D.C. elections and religious observance by its citizens will prove true when the Council acts to adopt Mayor Gray's proposed legislation addressing this issue" said Herzfeld.
Rabbi Herzfeld was represented in the lawsuit by Steven Lieberman, Sharon Davis and Daniel Shores of Rothwell, Figg, Ernst & Manbeck.
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Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld