Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Get Me to the Polling Place on Time

In the county where I live, nearly half the polling places are in churches. Allegedly, these are convenient venues in which to gather votes because they have good locations, plenty of parking, and wheelchair-accessibility. They’re also easy to find for even the most directions-impaired; church structures often lord it over neighboring edifices.

Of course, these qualifications are equally true of Wal-Marts, Targets, and Home Depots. Churches, however, are willing to rent out their space at the low, low rates the government pays. Some churches even waive the fee and serve doughnuts and coffee while you wait your turn to vote. For houses of worship, election day is a loss leader.

If you’re uncomfortable voting in a church, though, our county’s Supervisor of Elections reminds you that you can still do your civic duty by voting early and elsewhere or sending in an absentee ballot.

My particular polling place is not in a church and I am only marginally uncomfortable about voting in the community room of a trailer park. (My discomfort is due to taste rather than principle). What I am uncomfortable about, however, is all the other people voting in churches.

Many churches—and I use that in the non-Catholic catholic sense to include synagogues, mosques, and other supernatural profit-centers—adopt an explicit political stance. Religious leaders gull their believers into thinking that voting in a certain way will induce omnibenevolent glee. Some churches go as far as printing position papers, fliers or pamphlets telling congregants what their sky-buddy thinks about specific issues, and comparing his views with those of the candidates. On election day itself, all political literature is, by law, removed from within 100 feet of the polling place. But voters who belong to a politicizing church have already gotten their marching orders drummed into them. Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum.

You might make the argument that the particular voting site is not important. Most believers claim that god is everywhere. He sees you when you’re sleeping; he knows when you’re awake; he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so vote ultra-conservative for goodness sake. But to the mass of Sunday worshippers, god seems especially to enjoy hanging around churches. Those are his houses, aren’t they? Members of the electorate who might otherwise dare to think for themselves if they were entering a library or a Wal-Mart or the community room of a trailer park, may find themselves blinded by the holy light. The minute they set foot in Our Lady of the Far Right, they are reminded that the heavenly punisher is peering over their shoulders while they cast their ballots.

In a phone call to the Supervisor of Elections’ office, I was told that most churches “probably” removed their religious iconography from the space used for voting. Even though the woman I spoke with could give me no guarantees, she tried to reassure me. “I think it’s likely that they mostly use church gyms and community rooms,” she said. “You might have to look at some basketball hoops, but I don’t think there’s any religious art around.”

Still, it's an unfair advantage for the Jesus-jumpers. The ball’s in their court, isn’t it?


Anonymous said...

The Supervisor of Elections had "probably" never been to the church where I used to vote. To get to the room with the basketball hoops, you had to walk through the very religious entryway with crosses and tracts and bible verses, not to mention even parking your car under the big cross. One time the gym was busy so we voted in the library. Not much separation there.

Anonymous said...

As someone who has often voted in churches with crosses and bible verses looking down on me, I have a humorous counter-example for you. While living in NJ, I voted at RFK elementary school, where a 6 foot tall picture of Robert Kennedy looked down over the shoulders of voters, making sure we voted the right way. I loved it. It was the exact opposite of every other voting experience I've had.