Two weeks after Election Day, with President-elect Joe Biden projected to win in Arizona and Mark Kelly poised to become Arizona’s second Democratic senator, Democrats in the state are claiming victory while Trump supporters launched protests in front of the Maricopa County election office, and lawsuits were filed and dismissed.
Election officials, workers and volunteers, meanwhile, are defending the election process and celebrating high voter turnout. And rabbis in the Jewish community of Greater Phoenix are calling for healing and unity, and searching for common ground after the divisiveness of this election cycle.
For those involved in the election process, whether it was informing voters, advising poll observers or canvassing for a candidate, it was a long campaign season.
Ahead of Election Day, voters were bombarded with outreach efforts and reminders to vote, all of which helped produce record voter turnout: In Maricopa County, over 2 million ballots were cast, representing just over 80% of eligible voters.
Temple Chai’s civic engagement initiative was one of many outreach campaigns. Since July, volunteers were busy participating in phone banks that focused both on the Temple Chai community itself and on reaching marginalized communities where people were less likely to vote.
For Kaylie Medansky, director of teen, community and social action programs at Temple Chai, the high voter turnout feels like a win.
“We’re feeling good,” Medansky said. “It was great to see the voter turnout numbers were so high, and nice to feel like Temple Chai had a small part in
getting out the vote.”
While most voters in Arizona cast their ballots via mail or drop-off boxes, there was still work to do on Election Day. On Nov. 3, attorney Josh Bendor watched voting unfold on the sidelines, doing “all the relatively humdrum stuff of election protection work” as a volunteer with the Democratic Party of Arizona. He spent the day answering questions from voters and poll observers to ensure that every vote was counted.
“It was, frankly, a relatively boring election ... which is a good sign,” Bendor said. “I felt lucky to be able to be involved and to have something to do on Election Day so I wasn’t worrying — and instead, I was focused on trying to help.”
This year’s election process went smoothly, he said, thanks to poll workers, who worked long days — from before 6 a.m. until after polls closed at 7 p.m. — to ensure that voters had the opportunity to cast their ballot.
“I think that too often those folks don’t get recognition and they just get the frustration of people who are unhappy with one thing or another,” Bendor said. “But from what I was hearing [from poll observers], they were real professionals and doing really great work, so I think that’s worth a reminder.”
This year marked a long-predicted shift to the left for Arizona, with voters electing Mark Kelly, a Democrat, to the U.S. Senate, making it the first year that Arizona has two Democratic senators since 1953. And if the votes are certified as expected after pending legal challenges are resolved in the presidential election, it will be only the second time a Democrat has carried the state in a presidential race since 1948.
For Democratic volunteers and organizers, the results in Arizona represent years of hard work.
“We’re beyond pleased,” said Debra Stein, co-organizer of Arizona Jewish Women for Joe. “Some of us have been working for a number of years to turn Arizona blue, myself included, and it just seems like a culmination of a lot of pieces that have come together — the right candidate at the right time.”
More than 300 members of her group phone banked ahead of the election.
“I knew from the very first phone call that somebody picked up,” Stein said, “that people were ready to vote for Joe Biden. It was just a different experience.”
In conversations with voters leading up to the election, COVID-19 and health care stood out as top priorities for Arizonans, said Wendy Cohen, co-organizer for Arizona Jewish Women for Joe. And volunteers for the group didn’t just talk policy priorities and candidate preferences, but also answered questions about voting early and dropping off ballots for voters, regardless of their political affiliation.
“I feel that all the work that we’ve done here in Arizona to engage people to vote, and to vote early, particularly in Maricopa County ... really did pay off,” Cohen said. “I know from the hundreds and hundreds of conversations we had with people that we did make a difference.”
Cohen also volunteered with Democrats for District 28 in her local district, which coordinated volunteer efforts to reelect Arizona State Reps. Aaron Lieberman and Kelli Butler and to elect Christine Marsh to the Arizona state Senate. After 10 days of counting ballots, the Maricopa County Elections Department posted its final official vote tally on Nov. 13, which showed Marsh defeating incumbent Kate Brophy McGee by 495 votes.
For Cohen, it felt good to be part of those wins, both nationally and locally. All together, she made over 3,000 phone calls for Legislative District 28 and several hundred more with Jewish Women for Joe. She estimated that Stein made just as many.
“We were busy,” Cohen said. “We just felt so passionate about this election.”
While Democrats and Biden supporters are breathing a sigh of relief, many Republicans feel differently.
Phyllis Kaminsky, co-founder of the Jewish Women’s Conservative Forum, said that she was waiting for results to be certified before she accepts the election outcome as final. The Arizona Secretary of State will certify results on
Nov. 30, after all counties have audited and submitted their final vote counts.
“I’ve been in national politics for almost 40 years,” Kaminsky said. “I don’t mind losing if the election is conducted fairly and squarely. Whatever happens, I am very pleased to see the large numbers of African Americans and Latinos who are growing the Republican Party. It is also rewarding to see the Jewish vote for President Trump and Republicans increase in many states and country-wide. It’s the Jewish voter’s way of thanking him for his support and pro-Israel policies during his term in office.”
In the aftermath of the election, rabbis are looking to heal political divisions in the community. On Nov. 10, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix released the “Machloket L’shem Shemayim Project,” which brought together 10 rabbis from across the Jewish community to share a message of unity and mutual respect.
Rabbis emphasized the opportunity for the Jewish community to respectfully disagree and to find common ground.
“The moment calls for some calm, some patience, some thoughtful
analysis,” said Rabbi Mari Chernow of Temple Chai.
“I believe that this is a leadership opportunity for us as a Jewish community to help forge a path forward,” said Rabbi Yisroel Isaacs of Beth Joseph Congregation. “Some claim that all this nation’s many particular ethnicities divide it. There’s no better time to show how ethnicity can unite us, even though we have differences as Jews among ourselves.”
In addition to Chernow and Isaacs, the video included commentary
from Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman of Congregation Kehillah, Rabbi Pinchas Allouche of Congregation Beth Tefillah, Rabbi Yossi Levertov of Chabad of Scottsdale, Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz of Valley Beit Midrash, Rabbi Stephen Kahn of Congregation Beth Israel, Rabbi Jeremy Schneider of Temple Kol
Ami, Rabbi John Linder of Temple Solel and Rabbi Elana Kanter of the
The video ended on a hopeful note: a call for unity, and a prayer for peace
“May God bless the United States of America with peace and compassion and wisdom in the weeks to come,” Kahn said. JN