Poll Chaplains: Needed Now!
Clergy leaders – multi-faith, multi-racial and multi-generational – are going to show up to protect democracy this Election Day. We need you to join us.
I recently traveled to Atlanta, where I met with leaders of our Faiths United to Save Democracy campaign. They were concerned that right-wing activists have challenged thousands of absentee ballots in their state primary elections. From our Michigan state leaders, I hear the same deep worry about the 22,000 ballots there that have also been challenged. In Harris County, containing Houston, our leaders also saw that 6,000 voters saw their eligibility challenged, as the New York Times recently reported.
The Times reports that many of these challenges have been rejected. But more are coming; the real purpose of these attacks is to sow distrust in the voting process, distract and disrupt voting days, and demoralize public confidence in democracy.
Despite the fact that “examples of fraud are extremely rare,” as the Times reports, these right wing activists say they are “just checking,” as they demand that election officials examine everyone and everything that happens on election days.
Last week, Faiths United to Save Democracy hosted a call with our state clergy leaders in key states vulnerable to voter suppression: Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Texas, and Arizona. The lead pastor from Arizona seemed tired when he said, “We have so many Republican candidates that are actually election deniers, and one of them is for the office of our states Attorney General. What does that mean for our future?”
I recall a conversation from this summer with the election commissioner for the biggest county in Arizona. I asked him what he worries about at night. He replied: the safety of his election workers. The people who run our elections and ensure our votes are accurately counted are coming under pressure and threats. Many are leaving their jobs.
The “activists” challenging the eligibility of voters, the validity of absentee ballots, and planning to confront voters at polling stations are all Republican-aligned. Some are conspiracy theorists spewing disinformation – that is, lies – about elections and the electoral process.
In an eye-opening POLITICO article published in June Republicans claimed they are “training” one hundred thousand poll “challengers” for the 2022 elections. They admit targeting urban countries and polling places, which, of course, have majority Black and brown voters.
On our weekly calls we are trying to figure out the “geography” of the voting challengers. Will they be inside or outside polling places – or both? And how do we get ready for them? If the challengers are allowed to be inside, how do we prepare voters for what they might experience? We discussed how voters in the 2022 election might need to fight for their votes even as they are trying to cast their ballot, bringing us back to the bad old days of Jim Crow.
In what is still a stunning political fact, the majority of Republicans and their elected leaders will not acknowledge that Donald Trump was clearly, fairly, and soundly defeated by Joe Biden. Despite the facts and the overwhelming evidence that there was no significant election fraud in the 2020 election, a whole political party’s base is now based on misinformation and conspiracy theories, meaning Big Lies.
Of 552 total Republican nominees running for office, journalists at 538 found 201 who fully denied the legitimacy of the 2020 election. These candidates either clearly stated that the election was stolen from Trump or took legal action to overturn the results, such as voting not to certify election results or joining lawsuits that sought to overturn the election. An additional 62 candidates raised questions around the results of the 2020 election. These candidates haven’t gone so far as to say explicitly that the election was stolen or take legal action to overturn it.
Since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was finally passed, it used to be that actual voting on election day was easy and without much drama – after both sides had done their very best to turn out votes and make sure everyone in line had all the information they needed. People would just have to find the time in their schedules to come and vote. The paper or machine ballots were fairly easy to understand and navigate – and they we could have confidence when casting their vote that they would count, and that elections matter.
But not anymore. With a myriad of new restrictions aimed at voter suppression at systemic levels, we are in a new situation, with even the counting of votes now in question. And confrontation, even violence, is feared at polling places in 2022. Last Sunday’s New York Times lead editorial summed it up well, “This Threat To Democracy Is Hiding in Plain Sight.”
Enter the poll chaplains! We are adding “collars” to the “lawyers” with our Lawyers and Collars campaign, at polling places around the country. These poll chaplains, clad in their collars and stoles, with a big button that says “Poll Chaplain,” are being carefully trained to give voters the information and preparation they need, to offer care and support, and even be ready for de-escalation if conflict arises.
In the 2020 election, our poll chaplains surrounded armed men in a polling place, helped move a pick-up truck with flags and guns away from another one, and provided the trust and spiritual authority that assured many voters.
What we have been seeing is a whole new effort around the country, to once again, like Jim Crow, make it harder for people of color to vote. Let’s name this for what it is. Through voter suppression – both overt and covert– voter purges, gerrymandering, and now with attempted electoral corruption and manipulation; the forces of white minority rule are standing up to prevent a genuine multi-racial democracy in America. But a voter protection movement has also risen up, rooting itself in the theology that all God’s children are created in the image of God and voter suppression on the basis of skin color is literally an assault on imago dei.
So we are committed as people of faith not to allow the threats and electoral intimidation to distract, disrupt, and delay the voting process. Clergy and faith leaders from local congregations – multi-faith, multi-racial, and multi-generational – are going to show up to protect democracy. In the last election, 2020, Faiths United to Save Democracy trained 1,000 poll chaplains stationed at the most vulnerable polling places around the country – places where Black and brown voters go to cast their votes.
For this election, we are working and hoping to train and deploy 2,000 poll chaplains at the polls. Want to join us? Please sign up, particularly if you live in any of our key ten states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Texas, and Arizona.
Here is how you do that. Visit this website to partner with Faiths United to Save Democracy, be engaged with training and the information for how and where you can help: https://www.turnoutsunday.com/volunteer-chaplain
Let’s together make election day a time of strategic work, witness, collaboration, celebration and joy. Join us.