Your Take: Should we have polling places in churches?
Many polling places are in churches.
November 6th, 2012
06:45 PM ET

Your Take: Should we have polling places in churches?

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - It's an election issue that gets virtually no attention, but we found out today that many of you do feel strongly about it: Churches being used as Election Day polling places.

A guest Belief Blog piece on the subject Tuesday morning, "My Take: Stop using churches as polling places," fetched more than a thousand comments, prompting us to ask Twitter followers to share their church-based voting experiences and pictures. Then we noticed the "My Take" rising to near the top of reddit politics, sparking a lively discussion there.

Lots of you who cast ballots inside a house of worship today were bothered by it. Others were bothered by the notion of church-based voting, whether or not you participated in it. A sampling of opposition to church-based voting:

[tweet https://twitter.com/reap3rx/status/265915592266096642%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/FlyByPC/status/265885633069846528%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/usaFreeDumb/status/265896038991265792%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/irasocol/status/265890682303045634%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/kkotchman/status/265897131766845440%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/jthom999/status/265888823853084672%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/KateKarwowska/status/265873201005985792%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/whiskyd/status/265869239473278976%5D

And from reddit:

Try for a moment to understand what another person may feel. As a gay man, I have been hounded my entire life by people who use their god and their religion to hurt me. I've been made out to be less than a person. I've been cut off from friends and family. I'm told that the way I love is sinful and evil, and I'm threatened with eternal damnation. Then imagine how it is for me that to practice my rights as an american citizen, I have to pass under the noses of the very people who condemn and judge me, in their own house, where they can be seen as figures of authority, where they're further pressuring me to be one of them, to join them, to believe what they believe.

It's wrong. It's so very inappropriate for them to use a political situation to their advantage to put that pressure on me. If they could stand by as impartial and open their doors simply as a building for work, maybe, but they don't.

Others didn't see what all the fuss was about. In fact, the comments on reddit were generally pro-church voting.

[tweet https://twitter.com/emhammar/status/265887419046457344%5D

From reddit:

This is silly, guys. First of all, churches don't host the voting process in their sanctuaries, they host them in their social halls, which are just as multi-purpose as any other rented public space. Secondly, what better place to set up voting booths on a Tuesday than the set aside rooms of a church. Public schools are in session, and there simply aren't enough state or community buildings to make polling in them a viable system, especially for the half of the country that lives in rural areas. Thirdly, if any place is "beating people over the head" with political slogans, etc. in a polling place, they're breaking the law. That happens just as much in "secular" polling locations as "religious" ones. As such, it's a red herring to throw that into the conversation.

This exactly. There are tons of churches around me, not many public buildings. My old district, I voted in a school, but there are no schools near my new district so we use the church's gym. Big deal, it makes voting more accessible.

I would also much rather vote in a church than have to wait 2 hours to cast my ballot. churches are much more plentiful than public buildings in most of the United States.

What's your take? Join the conversation in comments, Twitter, or reddit.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Church • Comments • Politics

soundoff (261 Responses)
  1. Dorothy D

    I have been a poll worker at a Lutheran church for the past 12 years. The social hall is rented for the day for a nominal fee. In all these years, the pastor has never been guilty of proselytizing, nor has any voter ever complained. The Democratic Club in town is another voting venue. Republicans and Liberals do not complain about being unduly influenced there.

    November 7, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  2. Kim

    I understand why polling places had to be moved away from schools, but it does bother me some to have to stand in a Sunday school class under posters of "Jesus Loves You" etc etc. Or to be given coffee, donuts and church membership info when I walk in the door to vote (that one warranted a phone call to the Election Board to complain). This would all be a non-issue if we'd move elections to a day that is vastly more convenient, like on a weekend.

    November 7, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • Idaho transplant

      We should declare election day a public holiday so everyone can vote in comfort. It would take care of a lot of problems.

      November 7, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  3. ClevelandGAL

    It's just a building..the power is what people give it...who cares where you vote...just be happy you have the right to..people will complain about anything in this country...

    November 7, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Concerned Citizen

      So you would be comfortable voting in a bar, strip club, or Planned Parenthood office even if there were no booze, naked women or abortion pamphlets visible? No, it's not "just a building". The poling place matters and needs to be a neutral, safe environment.

      November 7, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • AKARN

      As a professing Christian, I would vote in a bar, a strip club, a mosque, an abortion clinic any day without a problem, provided the normal activities enjoyed in that venue are currently ceased, as is the case of a typical church on tuesday.

      November 7, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      I agree with AKARN except I object to stopping the normal business of the strip club being shut down during polling since polling is their normal business and they do it much better than the average voter.

      November 8, 2012 at 8:10 am |
  4. Nathan

    I assume the "tradition" started because we needed large, roomy spaces for voting crowds, which many churches can accommodate. The fact churches are virtually empty, unlike schools, on a Tuesday, further helped make them ideal locations from a purely logistical point of view. The last reason may be that churches were often built in the center of communities and neighborhoods (many older subdivisions built in the 40s-70s have churches smack in the middle, something not as common in modern developments) and this made them convenient for neighbors to walk or drive to and vote in their precinct.

    HOWEVER, times and logistics have changed. I voted in a grocery store. The biggest polling place around was a mall. Several others were in government buildings or empty spaces in strip malls. And our city lets you vote at ANY polling place, not just the one in your specific precinct. There is little need in most communities to continue to use churches when other, often less biased, facilities are available.

    November 7, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  5. Sam Yaza

    to all christians who support this

    Anton Lavey wanted to use his church as a polling place to,.. would you go in there? i know i wouldn't

    what if you had to go into a Shinto shrine to vote would you go in their knowing our religion is "Idolatry"?

    i have a little coffee shop for anti Christians like my self what if i wanted to use it as a polling place?

    November 7, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      I really do not get why it matters what building is used to vote in. I'd vote in KKK headquarters if that was my precinct polling location. I would vote pro-choice in a Catholic church. I would vote for gay marriage in a Baptist church. Who cares.....

      November 8, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • Sam Yaza

      some one who is a victim of said groups bigotry might be discouraged from placing their votes

      i see it as no different then gangsters saying if you go and vote to day will wreck your house

      its intimidating and that's the problem, people should be able to fell safe when you vote

      November 8, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  6. ForGoodOfAll

    I do not trust the people staffing the polls at a church. The radically-religious have a forceful non-negotiable mission, and if they work the equipment and/or organize the paperwork there is a definite risk of tampering to manipulate votes in favor of the church's agenda.

    November 7, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • End Religion

      Sad but true. Of course every religious person would be offended at the insinuation but it would only take a few cycles if that to find some churches cheating. It's human nature. Goodness, Mormons have a Lying For The Lord where deception is approved by the church. It isn't much further to hop on over to cheating on votes.

      November 7, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • iminim

      Most of the local polls in my region are staffed by volunteers who might, or might not, be from the same precinct and who might, or might not, have an affiliation with the church, city park building, fire station or social club where they work the polls. They seem to always need volunteers. I'll bet your region is similar. If you have concerns, consider being a volunteer poll staffer.

      November 7, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • AKARN

      Just because the polling place may be in a church, does not mean it is staffed by church members. these are volunteers from the community. Do schools staff their polling places with teachers? Hmm, never a conflict of interest there, I suppose.
      Please educate yourself.

      November 7, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  7. Milt

    Wow!! Sounds like a lot of Christians that voted in churches are feeling guilty. Could it be that the were not supporting the candidates/parties that they thought they really should? Amazing how many sheep will follow the crowd in spite of what they think is right.

    November 7, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
  8. samsjmail

    As an agnostic, it makes no difference to me. church....bar....strip club.. no difference. I don't care if the voting machine is under a cross or a neon Miller Light sign.

    November 7, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  9. Billy C

    When my polling place was moved from a YMCA to a Baptist Church, I was furious. The church took down their anti-abortion yard signs on election day, but still.

    I happened to work with the wife of the then-county-clerk and complained to her. She pointed out the reason for the change: all polling places were being moved to locations where children's activities were not being held. This new rule excludes venues like public schools, libraries and YMCAs, but churches are generally empty through the day on a Tuesday.

    The idea was that in case of violence at least the children will be safe. In my area there's little danger of religious terrorism, but I'd rate the danger of angry coots with shotguns as "not negligible."

    Voting in a church? I don't mind so much anymore.

    November 7, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  10. Shawn L

    There are enough schools that there is no need to use churches, especially since they are the bastion of the republican party.

    November 7, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  11. Siara Delyn

    I don't thing churches with signs like that should be tax exempt.

    November 7, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  12. Rick W.

    Well if I have to go to a school to vote then they should have to take down or cover up all books, right?

    November 7, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • samsjmail

      Just the Biology, Geology, and Astronomy books. They can leave the fiction uncovered.

      November 7, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
  13. Rick W.

    For me the building is not the chuch, the people are. I had to vote at the Amrican Legion Hall and I dont believe in Bingo but yuou know what, not once single Bingo game was played while I was voting. How many sermons were preached during your vote at a building where people go to worship?

    November 7, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Well, imagine standing next to a life-size crucifix contemplating ancient torture devices for about an hour while waiting to vote. It may concentrate disquiet about the religious right and their candidates. Not necessarily a bad thing, I guess.

      November 7, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Rick W.

      But don't you believe this crucifix is just a fabricated bit of old mythology or ancient soething or other? The crucifix should not mean anything to those who dont believe. Many people were crucified by the Romans. I understand your humor but dont understand why the building you vote in matters. I did not complain about voting where I had to.

      November 7, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • samsjmail

      I'm pretty sure that bingo is real.

      November 7, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • Nathan

      Do you count the church's sign out front telling me to pray for wisdom before casting my vote, the multiple wall-mounted pamphlet holders full of pamphlets including those for anti-abortion and other political topics, or the hall I had to walk down that had placards of prayers every ten feet?

      November 7, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  14. Andy

    I'm against it, but if there are no other public places available, then so be it. However, if churches are OK, then we should also use Mosques, just saying (And I would have same reservations about those, and same exception as well). I do have a feeling though, that most 'right wing' voters would not want to vote in a mosque, although, perhaps the comments will prove me wrong?

    November 7, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  15. TomGI

    I would prefer voting in a public venue like a library, school, fire station, police station, etc. Even private homes (garages) like we did in the 70's and 80's. I voted in a Korean Baptist Church, wow that was weird.

    November 7, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • Nathan

      Where I live they had early voting in grocery stores, malls, ever front offices of large apartment complexes. It was almost impossible not to early vote. And voting day still set up mega-polling locations at malls and strip malls. and you could vote anywhere in city limits, not just the polling place you were technically assigned to–even on election day.

      I have to say, it is pretty sweet to think "Man, I need to get some bread today. Oh, might as well vote while I'm here."

      November 7, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  16. Ann

    Even though I'm personally a christian, I believe in the seperation between church and state. In addition, feel politics and a church should be seperate from one another. However, I find that if a church gets invloved in politics they have a right to, but they should not be exempt after that and I personally don't want to go to a church that has a particular political platform even if I agree with it.

    November 7, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • iminim


      November 7, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  17. squirrelyone

    Um. In my township there's no other option. There are no commercial locations. There are no public locations. You either have it in a shed in the woods, like we used to when I was young and would go in with my mother, too scared to stay in the car for even a few minutes because I was afraid of cows–long story, never mind–or you have it in the hall for the one church in the township. I know this is probably only the case in rare instances, but because those instances do exist–we country folk do like to vote, you know, even if we shop, work, and go to school in other townships–we can't make a 100% ruling against it. Personally, I think that if signage that disagrees with your views scare you so much, you must be pretty weak in your convictions. It's a sign. Or a statue, or a pretty window. If the building is clean, safe, and (unlike the old shed) WARM, then I don't see any point in complaining.

    November 7, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • End Religion

      You seem squirrely. Should we trust your opinion? You seem to feel being afraid of signs is weakness but being afraid of cows is acceptable.

      November 7, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • squirrelyone

      Signs don't make scary huffing noises and drool. None that I've seen, at least. If you've been in a church and the windows/signs/statues are huffing and drooling, then I don't blame you for being unnerved.

      November 9, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  18. Bret Epic

    I am 100% absolutely against it. Just goes to show that there truly isn't a separation of church and state. This epitomizes it!

    November 7, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  19. Sterling

    I wonder how the holy rollers would feel about voting in a bar or an abortion clinic?

    November 7, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • Rick W.

      It would not bother me a bit. I can walk into a bar and not feel forced to drink.

      November 7, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Ken

      How about a gay bar? I'd pay to see that.

      November 7, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  20. Bob Ritter

    As an atheist, voting in a church would be a problem for me. Fortunately, I get to vote at a public elementary school. I recently worked as a staff attorney for a nonprofit which sued a Florida county for using churches as voting places. The organization lost the case, but the judge hinted at a possibly different outcome if the case was narrowly tailored - that is, to bring a suit against a specific egregious voting location rather than churches countywide. Some churches have very limited iconography and signage. Others, like the Catholic Church in Rabinowitz v. Anderson (mentioned above) were particularly egregious with a lot of religious symbols and signs on the walls and a big anti-abortion sign outside. At minimum, if a church is used as a polling place, the religious icons and signs should be covered or removed OR the church shouldn't be used as a polling place.

    November 7, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.