It’s now been a little over a week since thousands of people went to their local polling location to cast their ballots for president, governor and many other down-ballot races. Many peoples’ Election Day had them standing in line inside of a religious institution to cast their ballot, and it’s time for this to not be the norm.
In 2020, Wake County had 204 polling places, with 75 of those being religious institutions. That’s 36% of the polling places hosted inside of a religious institution. I recognize that some areas do not have enough large and empty locations to use as polling sites without using religious institutions, but these institutions should be a last resort.
First, it has been shown that your polling location has an effect on how you vote. In Arizona in 2000, it was found that voters that cast their ballots in a school were more likely to support an education funding initiative than people with similar social and demographic characteristics who voted at other polling places.
In 2012, a study asked people their thoughts about minority groups while standing in front of city hall and when standing in front of a church. People asked in front of the church were more likely to give anti-minority and conservative responses than those asked in front of city hall, regardless of their personal religious beliefs.
Furthermore, voting in religious institutions has actually encouraged violence and discrimination against religious minorities. In 2016, a mosque was removed as a potential polling location in Florida after the Palm Beach County Board of Elections received 50 complaints, including threats of violence, from people who refused to vote in a mosque. As of 2016, in New York City, there were no polling locations in mosques, even though it is estimated that one in eight New Yorkers are Muslims.
Wake County has 75 religious polling locations, with 73 of them being Christian. One, Sha’arei Shalom Congregation, is a Jewish synagogue, and the other, Hindu Society of North Carolina, is a Hindu temple. We’re willing to accommodate Islamophobes while forcing other religious minorities to vote in Christian churches.
Religious organizations are also tax exempt under the condition that they do not endorse or oppose a political candidate. Sixty-three percent of Americans believe the church should not be involved in politics; however, the government has not listened to this majority once again. The Johnson Amendment, enacted in 1954, prevents 501(c)(3) organizations, or tax-exempt nonprofit organizations, from being able to participate in political campaigning, endorsing or opposing a political candidate.
However, in 2017, Donald Trump signed an executive order limiting the power of the U.S. Treasury to enforce the Johnson Amendment against individuals or religious organizations endorsing or opposing political candidates for moral or religious reasons.
A religious organization may not be seen as political, but if their leader can legally endorse a candidate for religious reasons, the organization has then become political. Political messaging is not allowed within a polling place under electioneering laws, but if the polling place itself is political, how is that any better? It’s an erosion of the separation of church and state.
It’s time for the Wake County Board of Elections to move away from using religious institutions as polling locations. I recognize that many times religious institutions tend to be in central areas of precincts with large and empty areas that can easily be used throughout the week. However, these religious institutions should not be the first choice. They should be the fallback. If a religious institution should be chosen as a polling location, it should be investigated for political activism. If the religious institution is involved in partisan political activism, it should not be chosen as a polling place.
We wouldn’t let the North Carolina Republican or Democratic offices be used as polling places, so why are we allowing partisan organizations to be used as one?