ONTD Political

Churches Serving As Polling Places Posted Views On Same-Sex Marriage, Abortion During Election

2:49 pm - 11/20/2012
By Nicole Flatow

With several reported incidents this election cycle of churches that served as polling places touting their opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion, separation of church and state advocates are reviving calls to eliminate churches as polling sites. In Minnesota, where the Catholic Church has been the most vocal proponent of a ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage, the American Independent noted the following incidents:

In South Saint Paul, Minn., on Election Day, residents showed up at St. John Vianney Catholic Church to vote and were greeted with a banner outside the polling place entrance that read, “Strengthen Marriage, Don’t Redefine It.” [...]

Ivan Kowalenko … told Minnesota Public Radio, “I was shocked, I didn’t think that would be allowed. I was hearing that you’re not allowed to wear any political slogan of your own, so it doesn’t seem entirely appropriate that a voting venue would be allowed to express an opinion.”
At a separate polling place at St. Joseph’s Church in West St. Paul, Stephanie Weiss was waiting in line to vote, and she noticed a sign posted to the wall. It was a prayer, written by Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt, that urged Catholics to defend God’s plan for marriage — between one man and one woman.

Similar incidents occurred in May when North Carolina voted on the ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions:

Open Door Baptist Church in Morehead City put the words “Vote for Marriage” on its marquee the day of the primary election, according to the Carteret County News-Times. Earlier this month, the church doubled down on its politicking with a sign that read, “Vote for life and marriage.”

In Raleigh, North Carolina, Devon Park United Methodist Church put up the words “A true marriage is male and female and God” during the May vote on the constitutional amendment. That church was serving as a polling place.

The church’s pastor, William H. Pearsall Sr., told the Wilmington Star-News that it was his idea and that his church council agreed to put the message up. “We agreed that we needed to stand up for Christian values,” Pearsall said. He also told the paper, “In our church, God’s word never changes and it’s the truth.”

In all three instances in North Carolina, the signs were outside of the buffer zone set by state statute and were, therefore, legal. However, the incidents prompted a call by some residents and advocacy groups to revamp the selection process for polling places.

Even where churches are not posting advocacy materials on Election Day, advocates worry that the polling place gives the impression of impropriety and threaten the neutrality of the site as a place for civic activity. Studies have shown that voting in a church “could activate norms of following church doctrine.” And the Humanist Legal Center has pointed out that the selection of a church building for voting could “amount to an endorsement of religion that marks non-Christian voters as outsiders” and perhaps even more disturbingly, actually skews the results of the voting toward religious views, which amounts to an unconstitutional advancing of religion.” The Center also warns that the selection of churches may burden the right to vote, where “voters are forced to vote in a hostile location that skews the results.”

Churches are no doubt useful public spaces, particularly in small communities that lack other options. But organizations like Americans United for Church and State say if elections officials are going to use churches, they should at the very least better police political messaging at the sites.

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layweed 20th-Nov-2012 10:39 pm (UTC)
You know, while I agree with the sentiment that if people are swayed by a sign at the polling place, they probably shouldn't be voting on it, this is still electioneering and shouldn't be condoned. But if they're outside the buffer zone, you can't really do much about it, can you? =\
tigerdreams 20th-Nov-2012 10:42 pm (UTC)
Yeah no, this is not okay. Churches really shouldn't be used as polling places. I'm admittedly not well-acquainted with extremely small rural towns, so I'm open to being corrected on this, but if a community is large enough to support a church, then I would think it's large enough to support a library, or a post office, or a town hall. Surely there are SOME legitimate civic buildings that can be used as polling places instead of private religious institutions?
layweed 20th-Nov-2012 10:45 pm (UTC)
der changing polling places. why didn't that occur to me? *smack head*
caterfree10 20th-Nov-2012 10:46 pm (UTC)
Honestly, I find the idea of voting in a church really fucking skeevy as it is. The fact that they used this to promote their anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice agendas is even worse, irregardless of whether or not the signs were within or outside of the buffer zone. Why anyone would think voting in a church is a good idea is beyond me.
layweed 20th-Nov-2012 10:47 pm (UTC)
Probably because in many cases they act as a neighborhood gathering place to begin with, so people figure they can handle the crowds or are well located to act as polling places. Shrug. Or probably tradition.
brittlesmile 20th-Nov-2012 10:51 pm (UTC)
Does anyone know how polling places are even chosen? My housing cooperative is a polling place and we have no idea how that happened (though obviously it's super cool and even more convenient, we always wonder how we get away with our giant rainbow flags and Obama stickers in the bathroom and all that jazz. But maybe it's different when people live there? idek.).

ETA: obviously tho putting up posters and signs about specific ballot issues is really clearly crossing a line, but it seems like there are a lot more things that fall into kind of a gray zone ie: things that are permanant features of the polling place.

Edited at 2012-11-20 10:53 pm (UTC)
lainiest 20th-Nov-2012 11:38 pm (UTC)
Honestly it probably varies from city to city. A friend of mine voted in the lobby of her apartment building, of all places.
mary_pickforded 20th-Nov-2012 10:52 pm (UTC)
voting in a church? ridiculous and a blatant violation of the separation of church and state. it needs to be stopped.
ultraelectric 20th-Nov-2012 11:26 pm (UTC)
It's not that easy. In some rural areas a church is the only place to do voting because of its size, not every town is lucky to have a town hall area or a school to hold polling stations.
angelmaye 20th-Nov-2012 11:01 pm (UTC)
I live in the fourth largest city in my state, and I voted in a church. Not only that, I passed two other polling places that were in churches between where I work and my home, not including where I voted.

Welcome to the bible belt.
redstar826 21st-Nov-2012 02:06 am (UTC)
It's not just the Bible belt. I live in a pretty populated area of Michigan and I passed several churches that were polling places
hippie_chick 20th-Nov-2012 11:05 pm (UTC)
Our last polling place was a church. I don't understand that, don't think a church should be used as a polling place at all. This time we were at the Elementary School, which is better. There were people outside handing out slips of paper telling people how to vote for each thing, we had tons of new ammendments. Also who to vote for as President and Vice President, which was ALL skewed Republican. I tossed it because I already knew how I was going to vote. That shouldn't be allowed outside a polling place.
layweed 20th-Nov-2012 11:11 pm (UTC)
jaw. drop.
mollywobbles867 20th-Nov-2012 11:10 pm (UTC)
My designated polling place is a church. In the past when I've actually voted on election day, the voting booths are in the gym. However, during the primaries this year, we were in another room of the church; fellowship hall I guess? They moved it because it was entirely too cold in the gym for the poll workers (I asked.)

Thankfully, they've never broken the rules. I've never seen postings like that. Then again, TN hasn't voted on anything like that since I've been able to vote. I much prefer voting early at the mall, though.

Edited at 2012-11-20 11:11 pm (UTC)
sarahsayssoo 20th-Nov-2012 11:36 pm (UTC)
In a lot if small towns there are no suitable or appropriately sized public buildings
mickeym 20th-Nov-2012 11:17 pm (UTC)
I'm in a small-ish town in Kentucky, and both of the polling places I've used since living here have been in churches. BUT, there were no signs or anything beyond the "polling place here" "vote here" type.

It's kind of funny that I won't go to church on a dare -- except when it's time to vote :)
angry_chick 20th-Nov-2012 11:25 pm (UTC)
My Polling place was in a church.
teacup_werewolf 20th-Nov-2012 11:43 pm (UTC)
Same here.
maenads_dance 20th-Nov-2012 11:25 pm (UTC)
Argh, that sucks. The church that served as my polling place for the last two elections I voted in displayed no slogans whatsoever; but then, it would probably have been beside the point as the church was literally on a street named Obama Way and across from Martin Luther King, Jr Elementary School (Home of the fighting Panthers!)
crossfire 20th-Nov-2012 11:34 pm (UTC)
This is one of the reasons why I love me my mail-in ballot.
ms_maree 20th-Nov-2012 11:36 pm (UTC)
If they had the ballot in the local mosque I'm sure more people would be freaking out.
ennifer_jay 21st-Nov-2012 01:28 am (UTC)
We actually had this conversation last night in my class, and this is exactly what I said.
kishmet 20th-Nov-2012 11:49 pm (UTC)
actually skews the results of the voting toward religious views

Pretty sure that's why many churches are happy to serve as polling places tbh.

Honestly it's not acceptable to use any religious building as a polling place, for a ton of reasons. People of other faiths and atheists etc. have to a) not vote or b) enter one of these churches where the adherents likely think they're going to hell? That's a problem in and of itself and the polling places should at least be sworn to neutrality just like the election judges are
astridmyrna 20th-Nov-2012 11:55 pm (UTC)

mirhanda 20th-Nov-2012 11:56 pm (UTC)
Seems to me that even the smallest communities have schools. Those would be a much better choice that a church. A grocery store would be a better choice for that matter, but the store probably wouldn't want it.
shadwing 21st-Nov-2012 12:18 am (UTC)
But what to do with the kids? The two places large enough to house the ballot boxes/machines would be the Gym or the Cafeteria...and some really small schools don't have one...let alone both. You'd have to hope election day fell on a date that you could cancel or suspend classes.

In some rural areas they DON'T have a local school of any sort, 4-5 small towns have one County School that handles grades K-12 and they bus the kids in.
chargingkrogan 21st-Nov-2012 12:29 am (UTC)
My voting place was also in a church :/ My town is lousy with churches though, so I guess it was kind of unavoidable. We have a decent sized high school, and quite a few elementary schools as well though, so I don't understand why a church would even have to come into play. If a church absolutely HAS to be used, it should follow all the rules that other polling places have to. This is stupid and wrong, and completely avoidable imo
free_spoons 21st-Nov-2012 12:59 am (UTC)
I've always voted in my high school cafeteria, but my friend (who only lives 4 houses away from me) voted in our local interfaith center. But she used to vote in our county government office building until the larger meeting space in the interfaith center opened.
schexyschteve 21st-Nov-2012 02:11 am (UTC)
Yeah, I had to vote in church this year. I live in a huge metropolitan area, so it's not like we're short on schools and libraries and the like. It made me a little uncomfortable because we had to walk through the actual church for them to check us in. There were "Love Jesus" posters on the wall of the actual room with the voting booths.

I miss voting in the elementary school gym (actually the elementary school I attended!) in my hometown, like I did last time.
bestdaywelived 21st-Nov-2012 02:51 am (UTC)
There have to be other options that are not religiously-affiliated. Even the smallest of the small towns has SOMETHING to offer that's not a church. The place where I grew up had voting at the fire stations, and we were a small, low population town.

I'd be more okay with voting booths being set up at gas stations or something than a church.
romp 21st-Nov-2012 05:34 am (UTC)
I just looked up the rules for polling stations in Canada and I'm starting to think putting a polling station in a church might not be allowed here! Canadians, please tell us. Or maybe it just means to try for public buildings first...which is sounds like places in the US aren't even doing.
jennilee 21st-Nov-2012 02:33 pm (UTC)
In Calgary (fairly large city) I voted at an elementary school for the federal election (then again the school was called "Ascension of Our Lord"). In Regina, (a capital but mid-sized to smaller city I voted in the municipal election at a Catholic church.
gashinenai 21st-Nov-2012 09:52 am (UTC)
I live in a country where the influence of the Catholic Church is quite strong (even if our constitution claims the separation from state and church), but our polling places are public schools, hospitals, social centers.
Even in extremely small towns, polling places are usually town halls
so I'm kind of surprised by the choices made by so many small towns and big cities in the US
girlwonderrobin 21st-Nov-2012 11:50 am (UTC)
What I want to know is how the fuck is it even LEGAL to use a church for a polling place? Separation of Church and State should also apply to this! Religion has no place in the state house, and legislation has no place in a place of worship.

Do we have Homer Simpson and Al Bundy in charge of picking polling places? Or is it Sean Hannity and John McCain?
wrestlingdog 21st-Nov-2012 02:25 pm (UTC)
I'm really uncomfortable with using churches as a polling place, but I think it is still technically legal and it does make sense to me. I am hugely secular, but I don't think this is actually a violation of the separation of church and state. Even if you live in a really small town, there's usually at least one church/house of worship, but there might not be a school or library or other sufficiently large place to vote.

I do think that they shouldn't be allowed to have any sort of propaganda/"SUPPORT TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE" banners. We have rules about voter intimidation that govern how far away people campaigning for a candidate should be. I would think having banners like that at least violates the spirit of those measures, if not the letter.
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