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Hearing Set on Complaint That Voting Date Conflicts with Rosh Hashanah

A hearing has been set for Tuesday in federal court here on a complaint that Newport’s several hundred Jews have been denied an opportunity to vote in the municipal election set for Sept. 13, the first day of Rosh Hashanah, violating the federal Civil Rights Act. The Attorney General asked that the election be postponed.

Newport Jewish leaders, noting the election date conflict, had appealed to Gov. Philip Noel, who asked the state Supreme Court to issue an opinion postponing the vote. The court said it was bound by the wording of the law, which permits postponement of primaries but not municipal elections, and rejected the request.

The Newport Board of Canvassers suggested they would look the other way if Jewish voters mailed in absentee ballots, created for residents out of state on election dates. But Jewish leaders, led by Rabbi Theodore N. Lewis, rabbi of the 214-year-old Touro Synagogue, rejected this as a subterfuge.

At that point, the Attorney General filed suit, acting on his “common power” to prevent “a public wrong.” Lewis said that if the Attorney General’s suit failed, “at least, we will have the satisfaction of knowing we tried everything. “He added that he was “very distressed” at anything in the United States “that even has the aroma of Jewish people being denied their rights.”

Lewis said the date conflict was forcing Newport Jews “to choose between our religious beliefs and our constitutional rights,” adding that “if we cannot vote, that will make us less American.”

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