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Jewish Groups Launch Drive to Register 1 Million Voters

Now that the Republican and Democratic conventions are over, attention has shifted to getting American Jews registered to vote and out to the polls.

A patchwork of studies estimate that up to 1 million American Jews are not registered to vote, a group that includes elderly people who recently moved to another state as well as younger Jews.

The numbers have alarmed many Jewish organizations and prompted the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism to revamp a “Get Out the Vote” manual to give the Jewish community a blueprint to make the “myth that all Jews always vote” a reality.

The 4 million eligible Jewish voters in the United States traditionally draw their political strength from the perception that they will turn out in high numbers on Election Day.

With both President Clinton and Republican challenger Bob Dole counting on Jewish support in key states Nov. 5, the importance of registering Jewish voters has taken on renewed urgency.

Although the effort has received a late start, organizers believe that they can still mount a successful voter registration drive.

All four major Jewish denominations — Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist — and the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council are participating in the effort. Most major national Jewish groups and local Jewish federations have also signed on to the drive.

“The next month to six weeks is a very synagogue-based time for a lot of people,” said Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center. “This provides a unique opportunity as many American Jews turn their attention to the election.”

The Orthodox Union has called on its nearly 1,000 synagogues to hold a registration drive Saturday night, after Slichot, “to make sure that everyone who is not registered will do so,” said Betty Ehrenberg, O.U. director of international affairs and communal relations.

While no longer in existence, the Synagogue Council of America produced and distributed voter registration guides for the 1988 and 1992 elections.

The new 17-page manual, including a state-by-state breakdown of registration deadlines, gives synagogues and Jewish groups detailed strategies for reaching unregistered voters during the eight-week sprint to Election Day.

“So many of the issues that we care about are up for grabs in this election,” Pelavin said. “Any way of facilitating the involvement of the community in what is probably the most important decision, who comes to Washington, is important.”

After the October registration deadlines, attention will turn to a “Your voice counts! Your vote counts!” campaign to get potential voters to the polls.

In communities across the country, volunteers from local Jewish groups and synagogues will join other volunteers and local political parties to move voters physically from their homes to the polls.

“Given the decline in voting numbers in the United States it is more important than ever to get out the vote,” Ehrenberg said. “Israel’s 80 percent turnout should be an inspiration to us all.”

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