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Jewish voters reflect on election day conflict

The advanced poll voting station at West Preparatory Junior Public School in Toronto.

Jewish voters taking advantage of advanced polls on Oct. 13 expressed mixed feelings about the federal election falling on the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret.

Some felt that it was disrespectful or even anti-Semitic to hold the vote on the holiday, while others were unbothered. Some thought Elections Canada did enough to provide additional options for observant Jewish voters, while others believed the accommodations were lacking.

Federal elections have been legislated to take place on the third Monday in October since 2007. The chief electoral officer could have recommended that cabinet change the date so as not to conflict with the holiday, but chose not to.

In a press release issued Oct. 15, the day after the advanced polls closed, Elections Canada said an estimated 4.7 million people voted in the advanced polls, which would represent an almost 30 per cent increase from the 3.6 million in 2015.

This year, Elections Canada also opened up additional service points (ASPs) at synagogues and other Jewish centres, such as nursing homes, schools and Chabad houses, to make voting more accessible for members of the Jewish community. According to preliminary figures provided to The CJN, 7,221 people voted at these ASPs in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and B.C.

Even though these additional options helped accommodate thousands of voters, not everyone was aware of them, and some voters also weren’t sure when the regular advanced polls were open.

“Maybe synagogues could have done more to make it an issue that they were talking about and let people in their community know where to go and to make sure to do it by today,” said Meredith Landy, who voted at West Preparatory Junior Public School in Toronto on Oct. 13.

Landy didn’t realized the advanced polls closed on Oct. 14, which was also the first day of Sukkot, and had been planning to vote later in the week. If a friend hadn’t told her to vote that morning, she would have missed her advanced voting opportunity.

“I would have needed to make a difficult decision about whether or not to vote, or whether or not to observe the not writing rule on the holiday,” she said.

The advanced polls were open from Oct. 11 to 14, but between Shabbat and Sukkot, observant Jews were unable to vote most of those days. And even the times they were religiously permitted to vote still weren’t very convenient because of the holidays.

The returning office for the electoral district of Eglinton-Lawrence in Toronto.

Chaya Alon, who voted at the Eglinton-Lawrence returning office in Toronto, told her husband she didn’t expect to have time to vote. “But he said, ‘We’ll go for a walk in the sunshine.’ Otherwise, I didn’t think I was going to come out. Too busy of a day, too busy of a week, between Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot,” she said.

Her husband, Ephraim Alon, said it was “upsetting” that the election date wasn’t changed, and also wondered why the advanced polls didn’t stay open the whole week, or why they weren’t at least available on the Sunday before the election. He also said he believes that if the election “fell on Ramadan, they would have changed it.”

“I guess because of our white privilege, they don’t view us as a minority, unfortunately. Fortunately and unfortunately, I suppose,” Chaya Alon added. “Because we’re not a visible minority that they feel that they have to show that they’re honouring our differences.”

Rosette Rutman, left, and Stephen Abrams pose for a picture after voting in advance polls, in Toronto on Oct. 13. (Alex Rose photo)

Rosette Rutman, who voted at West Prep with her husband, Stephen Abrams, felt the same.

“I think had there been other minorities, they would have made more of an effort to move it,” she said. “I think had it fallen on a Muslim holiday, it would have been moved. The government seems to be very inclusive for them and I don’t feel that we were extended the same opportunities.”

Abrams was disappointed that the Conservative party had only released its official platform on Oct. 11, saying it didn’t give early voters enough time to consider the platform or see the responses to it.

“I think it’s very important that in advance of the advance polling, that all three parties have distributed their platform statements and their positions, and we’ve had a chance to hear the input from the other parties, as well,” he said.

“The example that I use is that during the (Ontario) provincial election, the NDP put out a platform on dentistry, which wasn’t part of the Conservatives’ or the Liberals’ platform, and then immediately the Liberals and Conservatives put that out.”

Mordechai Silberstein, who voted at the Eglinton-Lawrence returning office, wasn’t upset by the election date or the early voting process. His parents informed him that he’d have to vote on Oct. 11 or 13, so he did.

“I had only two days to do it, but it wasn’t a big deal and it’s not so hard for me to get to the elections place,” he said.

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