January 9, 2012
D.C. mayor to settle rabbi’s lawsuit over special elections
Washington Mayor Vincent Gray has settled a lawsuit brought against the District of Columbia by a local rabbi over the date of special elections.
Gray, a Democrat, agreed last week to introduce legislation to the City Council that would allow discretion by the district’s Board of Elections and Ethics to schedule a special election to avoid conflicts with religious holidays.
Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld in his class-action suit against the board had called on the city to adopt a procedure that ensures that elections are not scheduled on any religious holidays. The complaint, filed May 27, had claimed that the board placed an unconstitutional burden on observant Jews by scheduling a special election on the last day of Passover in 2011. Orthodox Jews may not write or use electronic devices on holidays.
Under the soon-to-be-proposed legislation, the board would be able to schedule special elections within a window of 100 days to 130 days after a vacancy is declared. The city charter now requires that a special election be scheduled for the first Tuesday occurring 114 days after a vacancy is declared.
Herzfeld, the rabbi of Ohev Shalom-the National Synagogue, originally had sued prior to the April 26 election asking that the date be changed or that voting hours be extended about two hours, allowing observant Jews to vote after Passover.