Deborah Cohen
July 31, 2020
Combating Voter Suppression during Covid-19

Given the global pandemic and current social and political unrest, many people are becoming involved with voter engagement.  Voting allows people to make their voices heard and participate in the political system.

According to the American Bar Association, voter suppression has disenfranchised millions of eligible voters – especially voters of color – through voter purges.  Voter purges occur when registered voters are removed from rolls because they have skipped voting in several consecutive elections.  Congregation Shir Shalom (CSS) member Deborah Cohen is dedicated to helping those who have been purged to reclaim their vote.

Raised by parents who were passionate about social justice, Deborah refers to herself as a “Red Diaper Baby,” or a child whose parents were members of the Communist Party.  Her parents just had a passion for protecting the weak, a trait that transferred over to Deborah.  Now a retired psychiatric nurse, Deborah and her husband, Rick Mahler, found social action volunteer work through their synagogue in Kingston, NY.  Originally from Buffalo, she recently returned to be with family, then joined CSS, and is currently a personal life coach.

As a social activist, after the death of George Floyd, Deborah wanted to attend the Black Lives Matter protests, but knew that the pandemic made it too risky.  “We wanted to be on the front lines, like we always have been, but we felt it was too dangerous to go out in public,” she said. But the pandemic could not stop her.  She quickly became involved with Reclaim Our Vote, an organization that creates and sends colorful postcards to voters that have been removed from voter rolls. The postcard provides information on how to register, obtain a ballot, and vote.  After training with Andrea Miller, the founder of Reclaim Our Vote, Deborah started her own postcard writing group at CSS.

Writing the postcards is a simple process, she explained.  The NAACP looks at public records to find the names and addresses of everyone who has been removed from the voter rolls.  With a small fee, you can acquire a list of these names and write postcards to them with a script approved by the local Board of Elections.  Why a postcard?  “If you have a colorful postcard that’s handwritten, people tend to give it a second look,” she added.  It appears to be successful.  Twenty-five percent of people who received a postcard have re-registered to vote, a statistic that astonishes Deborah.

Deborah is currently one of 50 CSS members who are writing postcards.  Over the past three weeks, over 1000 cards have been written and sent to Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Texas.  Deborah and Rick dedicate themselves to writing 20 cards weekly.

She strongly encourages anyone who wants to join CSS’s postcard writing group or start their own group to email her at  “If you want to do something, but don’t want to go on the streets and be exposed to COVID-19,” Deborah encourages, “the Reclaim Our Vote project is something you can do at home and really make a difference.”

Many thanks to Hannah Gabelnick, Buffalo Jewish Community Relations Council intern, for contributing today’s spotlight.

Deborah Cohen - Deborah Cohen and Rick Mahler scaled

Deborah Cohen and her husband, Rick Mahler, writing postcards for Reclaim Our Vote.