Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Vote and Pray - Church Ends Being a Voting Site

Yesterday was Municipal election day in Anchorage.

Image sources listed at bottom of the post

Suppose when you put your ballot into the voting machine the wall behind the machine looked like the poster above.  If you were a Muslim, you might or might not object depending on how you felt about your faith and on your understanding of separation of church and state.  I don't have any problem with these images on their own.  But if I were forced to view these in order to vote in my local election in the United States, I would have a problem.

Well, yesterday this is what I actually saw when I put my ballot into the voting machine.

And here's the wall again with the voting machine:

It turns out that the voting officials were there Monday night checking that all the voting booths and other materials were there, when they discovered the previously religiously neutral room now had religious sayings posted on the wall.

They called the Muncipal Clerk's office and were told to cover the religious sayings and symbols.  One of the officials had some butcher paper in her car and covered the wall.  The Municipal Clerk told me that they also called the Pastor Monday evening to let him know that this was being done.  There was some objection and the Pastor said they would not have voting in the church again if the walls were going to be covered.

Sometime Tuesday morning, the voting official told me, a woman came storming in and tore off the paper covering the wall, crumpled it up, and said to the poll workers, "Remember where you are.  This is a church."   This turned out to be the Pastor's wife.

According to the Municipal Clerk, the First Church of God  at McInnes and Tudor will no longer be a site for elections.   The Pastor pulled his church from being used to vote in the future. 

I was not quite sure how to approach this story.  I think that most readers here understand that the separation of church and state is critical, because people should not be forced to face religious symbols and sayings in order to vote.   For some, voting in a church already raises issues as I've posted in the past.  And a study (mentioned in the link) suggests that where people vote affects how some people vote.

I added the Islamic 'wall' above for people who do not see any problem voting before a wall full of Christian sayings and imagery.   I'm hoping that by imagining being forced to see a different religion's symbols when they voted, they might understand why non-Christians (and Christians)  might be bothered by what I experienced yesterday. 

After the covering was torn down, the poll workers did their best to minimize voters being forced to view the images by rearranging the polling booths and the voting machine. 

I am waiting for a copy of the agreement between the Municipality and voting places and I also have a call in to the Pastor.

Images in Islamic Poster  from:
Discover Islam , Islamic Posters,Arlisbest,   Dr. Ardnan Mussalam,   Urduworld,   On Truth and Reality


  1. I also felt quite awkward voting at this same church yesterday. I think the sports literature on home-team advantages is relevant.

    Plus, I always enjoyed voting next to the fire engines at the Fire Station...

  2. I would have found the religious placards discomfiting, although I would have voted according to my civic conscience. Better to have this site off the register of polling places though. Seems like Mrs. Pastor has a very proprietary view of a temporarily public place. Typical of what we've come to expect in this town steeped in religiosity.

  3. To me, it isn't so much symbolism of a given belief system being present as the bonafide activities of the sponsoring public space. Should we conform non-partisan expression of private institutions when used for public purpose? The 'nice police' are very active in the UK; I don't know if I'm comfortable with the US doing the same given its explicit constitutional conundrum: (political) expression vs separation of religion.

    Given constraints of precinct polling place availability, there is potential for a recruited voting site to be difficult for a given person or group. Perhaps a mail-ballot such as used in Australia or Oregon would work as a work-around for those who find their polling place difficult for any number of reasons. Given that your current mayor is considering the idea (ADN 7 April), this may be an idea worth a go.

  4. My apologies, the ADN reference is from 6 April -- I'm writing in London and it's yesterday where you live!

  5. This sort of thing gives religion a bad name.

    You know from my past comments on this site that I don't have a problem with voting in a church per se. But clearly this pastor looked upon the election as an opportunity to proselytize, by hanging all the posters in the previously empty room.

    Polling sites should not have religious materials posted within sight of the voters. The rental contract ought to specify no religious materials other than what were there when the site was inspected. And the election workers should have (a) put the butcher paper back up after Mrs. Pastor's rampage, and (b) barred Mrs. Pastor from the room for the rest of the day.

  6. This was SO wrong! Election workers should have REMOVED all that material and stored it until after all the election business was finished, then left it there in a pile.

    Polling places should NEVER be in churches, synagogues, mosques, or any other place of worship.

    Great example for an opener, too.


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