U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan has denied the request of a Washington rabbi seeking to have an upcoming local election rescheduled because it conflicts with a Jewish holiday.
In a ruling late this afternoon, Sullivan said that because the city was offering several alternative absentee voting options, the rabbi’s claims did not meet the standard for the “extraordinary” measure of an emergency injunction.
Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, the rabbi of an Orthodox synagogue in northwest Washington, had sued the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics over a special election scheduled for 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on April 26, also the eighth and final day of Passover. On the first, second, seventh and eighth days of Passover, observant Jews are prohibited from signing their name or completing an electronic circuit, in effect precluding them from casting a ballot.
The rabbi had claimed that the city’s failure to act on the conflict was a constitutional violation, because officials were “imposing a burden on observant Jewish voters that is not imposed on any other voters.” Herzfeld had asked the judge to either reschedule the election or extend voting hours until 10 p.m., since Passover ends on April 26 at 8:40 p.m. The city had argued that the alternative options for voting were more than sufficient, and also that its hands were tied in scheduling by election statutes.
In denying the rabbi’s request for an emergency order (PDF), Sullivan did not dismiss Herzfeld’s case against the city, adding that the rabbi could still pursue his original claims (PDF) that his First and Fifth Amendment rights had been violated in how the election was handled.
The judge also expressed disappointment that election officials had failed to ask the court for an order to fix the conflict as soon as they were aware of it in late March; under D.C. law, only a court order can alter voting hours in these special elections.
“This court would have happily granted such an order,” he said.