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2008-01-17
Carson City, Nevada, USA
Religious groups angry as US election campaign hits Nevada
The US election campaign is stirring discontent in Nevada, with religious groups saying they will be excluded from voting because Saturday's presidential caucuses take place on a day of worship.

Jewish groups and some Seventh-Day Adventists have both complained that followers will be frozen out of the Democratic and Republican caucuses because they take place on the Sabbath.

"To schedule these caucuses with no consideration whatsoever for the needs of Sabbath observers effectively disenfranchises a growing portion of the electorate," said American Jewish Committee counsel Jeffrey Sinensky.

Sinensky said in a statement that because there were no provision for submitting absentee ballots, anyone observing a Saturday Sabbath would not be able to take part in the caucuses.

The Saturday scheduling could affect as many as 60,000 Jews in Nevada.

Adventists -- who number around 5,000 across the state -- have raised similar concerns.

"Scheduling the caucuses on Sabbath morning marginalizes both the Seventh Day Adventist Christian and Orthodox Jewish Communities," said James Standish, an associate director of the Adventist Church.

"In an election that is being decided on thin margins, selecting a time that excludes thousands of voters may even change the outcome," he added.

Ironically, the complaints of religious groups feeling disenfranchised come amid controversy over plans to set up special voting stations near Las Vegas casinos in order to encourage workers at gambling dens to participate.

Analysts say the casino caucuses will benefit supporters of Democratic front-runner Barack Obama, who last week won endorsement from an influential culinary workers union, many of whose members work in Las Vegas gaming halls.

However a state teachers' union, widely viewed as being allied to Obama's rival Hillary Clinton, has challenged the legality of the voting stations, claiming in a lawsuit that the centers violate constitutional and state rules.

"Why are extraordinary accommodations being made for people on the (Las Vegas) Strip but not other workers?" Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, told the Las Vegas Sun.

Obama on Sunday accused Clinton supporters of backing the legal challenge.

"I think everybody here knows what's going on," Obama told reporters in Las Vegas. "They are looking to disenfranchise not just culinary workers but folks who work on the Strip, dishwashers, cooks and maids."

Clinton denied that her supporters were behind the suit. "I don't want to disenfranchise anybody," she told NBC news on Sunday.

Nevada Democratic officials have disputed the lawsuit's claims, pointing out that the voting process had been approved by the Democratic National Committee as long ago as May last year.

Source: News Agency Agence France Press (AFP)
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