Observant Jewish Democrats to Be Excluded From Nevada's Sabbath Caucus

Party rules require voters be present for 11 A.M. caucus meant to 'increase access as much as possible for Democrats across Nevada.'

A Bernie Sanders yarmulke seen at a campaign event in Marshalltown, Iowa, Jan. 10, 2016.
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Sabbath-observing Jewish Democrats will be shut out of the party’s February 20 caucus in Nevada.

The country’s third primary election is scheduled on a Saturday, at noon. Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and senator, is considered the favorite in Nevada against her insurgent opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, party leaders said they selected the time because they thought it would be most convenient for the largest number of people.

“Saturday at 11 A.M. is the best time to increase access as much as possible for Democrats across Nevada to participate in our First in the West caucuses,” Stewart Boss, spokesman for the Nevada State Democratic Party, told the Review-Journal. “Keeping this date is critical to preserving our early-state status in the presidential nominating calendar.”

Traditional Shabbat observance prohibits driving, working and numerous other activities from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

Other states with Saturday primaries avoid excluding observant Jews (and Seventh-day Adventists, who also observe their Sabbath on Saturdays) by giving voters the option of casting absentee ballots. In Nevada, however, voters who are not members of the military must show up in person to participate in its caucus.

According to the Huffington Post, Jolie Brislin, Nevada regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the group is “dismayed to learn that no religious accommodation will be made.”

“As an organization committed to safeguarding religious freedom, we feel it is patently unfair to exclude someone from the caucus process because they are religiously observant,” she said. “We urge the party leadership to reconsider this decision.”

According to a 2012 Jewish population estimate, there are 76,300 Jews in Nevada. However, it is not clear how many of them are registered Democrats or Sabbath observant.

Rabbi Bradley Tecktiel, chairman of the community relations council of the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas, told the Review-Journal the scheduling is “unfortunate” and disenfranchises “certain members of the Jewish community.”

Rabbi Shea Harlig of Chabad of Southern Nevada said there’s “no reason” a caucus couldn’t be on a weeknight and expressed surprise that party leaders weren’t more sensitive to religious diversity.

Nevada’s Republican caucus, the fourth primary vote for the party, is scheduled for February 23, a Tuesday.