O.C. Jews Fault Date of Special Primary

Times Staff Writer

Jewish groups in Orange County protested Wednesday that a special primary election to replace Rep. Chris Cox, now chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, had been scheduled during Rosh Hashana, the celebration of the Jewish New Year.

The governor announced Monday that the special general election to replace the former Newport Beach congressman in the 48th District would be held Dec. 6, with the special primary two months earlier, on Oct. 4. Once set, the election date can’t be changed, the governor’s press office said Wednesday.

“We’re amazed and outraged that there’d be such a lapse” in judgment, said Rabbi Marc Dworkin, executive director of the American Jewish Committee of Orange County. The Jewish Federation of Orange County sent its own letter asking for the general election date to be changed. Both organizations are based in Irvine, in the heart of the district.

Jews traditionally spend Rosh Hashana reflecting at home or attending religious services, and taking time out to vote is seen by many to be disrespectful.


Oct. 4 also marks the first day of the monthlong Islamic holiday of Ramadan.

The governor’s office said the timing for the special election to replace Cox was requested by Orange County Registrar of Voters Steve Rodermund.

Rodermund said in an interview that his office was aware that the primary would fall during Rosh Hashana but went with the date anyway because of the timing demands of a special election. State law says an election must be held within a certain period after an office vacancy.

Officials were focused on the general election, Rodermund said, deciding that an alternative date of Nov. 29 would interfere with Thanksgiving.


There were “pluses and minuses with” other alternative dates, Rodermund said. “If voters feel this creates a hardship, there are alternative forms of voting.”

Among them: absentee voting and voting early at the registrar’s office in Santa Ana.

That misses the point, Dworkin said. Officials should have been more respectful of Orange County’s 100,000 Jews, many of whom live in the 48th Congressional District. And he rejected Rodermund’s rationale for avoiding a Nov. 29 general election, which would have put the primary Sept. 29, or pushing it to mid-December. A special primary must be held about 60 days before a special general election.

“There was no outreach or sensitivity to the Jewish community,” Dworkin said. “Second, the governor’s office didn’t check the calendar either.”


Bill Campbell, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said he asked county attorneys to research whether early voting could be offered at synagogues or other spots in the district to accommodate voters who intend to observe Rosh Hashana. He said he did so after getting “an earful” from a constituent who was offended by the election timing. Campbell also said he would meet with rabbis in the district to hear their thoughts.

Among considerations for setting the general election date, he said, was ensuring that the county had time to certify voting from the Nov. 8 statewide special election, which must be completed by Dec. 6.

Rosh Hashana, among the holiest of Jewish holidays, sets aside two days for reflection and prayer. This year, it begins at sunset Oct. 3 and ends Oct. 5.

Holding an election then would be akin to holding it on Christmas Day, said Harvey Englander, campaign manager for Marilyn Brewer, the former GOP Newport Beach assemblywoman who has declared her candidacy for Cox’s seat.


“It’s somewhat amazing to me that the governor’s office wouldn’t have taken this into account,” he said. “It’s true people can vote by absentee ballot, and a lot will, but some won’t, and this is just inappropriate.”

Other governments have been mindful of such holidays, he said; Los Angeles changed its charter so that spring elections wouldn’t coincide with Passover.