Bolton Street election group strives to get the vote out

Ralph Raphael, husband of Elaine Richman, voting at the Pimlico Public Safety Training Academy on Northern Parkway
Ralph Raphael, husband of Elaine Richman, voting at the Pimlico Public Safety Training Academy on Northern Parkway (Elaine Richman).

Election Day is almost here, and with the pandemic hovering over the nation, many questions linger. Is it safe to vote in person? Is it too late to mail a ballot in? Where are dropboxes located?

At Bolton Street Synagogue, the congregation’s Vote 2020 group has been working to cut through the confusion and help their community safely exercise their democratic responsibilities.

“There was at least, for a while, a lot of press about how confusing it was this year to vote, and how complicated it could be this year to vote,” said Randy Reichel, board member at Bolton Street and an organizer of the Vote 2020 group. “It made a lot of people worried that maybe there were some folks out there who didn’t know how to go get their ballots, and didn’t know how to vote their ballots, or it was just going to be really confusing.”

That sentiment was echoed by Elaine Richman, president of Bolton Street and member of the Vote 2020 group. “We figured if it was this confusing for us, it was going to be equally as confusing for most of the people around us,” she said.

“There were a number of us, all at the same time, kind of reached out and said ‘Maybe there’s something that we can do to help,’” Reichel said.

Enter Vote 2020. Comprised of around 10 individuals, the group came together in August to help people find answers to their questions and to connect those who wished to volunteer with relevant opportunities, Reichel said.

One of the most common points of confusion, Reichel explained, revolved around how to acquire a mail-in ballot. During the previous primary election, she noted, people were sent mail-in ballots automatically, whereas during the general election it was necessary for voters to request one. People were also unsure as to whether requesting a mail-in ballot would bar them from voting in person if they later changed their minds, she said. Other questions on peoples’ minds included whether the post office could be trusted with ballots and where ballots could be dropped off at.

The group used the congregation’s weekly email as the vehicle to disseminate the information it found, Reichel explained. They also spoke with two other groups at Bolton Street to help clarify the voting process. The first of these, called Bolt, is made up of the synagogue’s 18- to 35-year-olds. The Vote 2020 initiative spoke with them during their biweekly happy hours. The second was a 60 and above group, who had their own questions about voting. Richman added that Shabbat services were also used as opportunities for the group to share information with the wider congregation.

Richman complimented Reichel on her leadership skills, saying that her background as a lawyer was critical to illuminating the complexities of voting regulations. Richman also wished to highlight the contributions of members Alaine Jolicoeur and Marc Wernick. Richman praised Jolicoeur’s “big personality [and] great, intuitive understanding of voting and the younger population,” while highlighting Wernick’s “gifted sense of how to communicate information to people” and his talent for “crafting a message that would remind people to vote.”

While Richman does not expect the group to continue past Election Day, she suspects that “there will be something else. … Whatever we see as part of our mission and our interest, we’ll be there to address it.”

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