The schedule for next year’s Iowa primary caucuses is a problem for Shabbat-observant Jews. The event has been scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 23 at 1 p.m. A statement from the two state party chairs, reprinted at the bottom of this blog post on the Des Moines Register’s Web site. doesn’t mention the conflict and states that the scheduling will draw more people to the off-year caucuses:
To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time either Party has held its precinct caucuses on a Saturday. Our decision to hold these important organizational meetings on a Saturday was made to encourage greater participation in an off-year caucus and get more Iowans actively involved with the work of our Parties.
Getting more Iowans involved in their local precinct caucuses is good for Democrats, good for Republicans, and good our political process. Iowans will be making some critically important decisions in 2010 and the more people actively involved in the process the better for Iowa.
The Register notes that it is unclear how exactly Shabbat-observant Jewish voters can participate, and has a quote from a Jewish leader and politico expressin disappointment with the decision:
The impact on Jewish voters is something that shouldn’t be immediately dismissed, though, and I should have thought about this before I posted a little bit ago. It’s one of the big reasons Saturday caucuses haven’t been tried before. I don’t know how the parties get around that without some form of absentee ballot, and those create problems even as they solve some others.
…. Paulee Lipsman, former House Democratic caucus director, who is Jewish, says she and some others called the state party to complain two years ago when she heard Saturday caucuses were being considered. “We have enough trouble with schools scheduling tests and homecoming on Jewish holidays,” she said. She notes, though, that some Jews will attend Saturday events, just like some Christians go to football games on Sunday instead of to church. “No matter when you do it, you’re disenfranchising people,” she said.
Lipsman was also quoted in Politico:
Paulee Lipsman, a member of the community relations commission of the Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines, said Jews represent a relatively small but politically active segment of the state electorate.
“We’re disappointed,” she said. “It isn’t that every Jew will be affected, but it is a problem for those who would like to observe the Sabbath."
The 2006 American Jewish Yearbook estimated there are 6,140 Jews in Iowa, 0.2 percent of the population.
It is unclear what this means for Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary caucuses, which are traditionally held on a weekday evening.