A friend of mine went to vote on primary day in August, for the first time in a new town. His polling place was at a church and they made sure they had material spread around the room where you cast your ballot telling you how to vote “pro-life.” My former colleague Andy Birkey has a report on similar situations around the country:
In South Saint Paul, Minn., on Election Day, residents showed up at St. John Vianney Catholic Church to vote and were greeted with a banner outside the polling place entrance that read, “Strengthen Marriage, Don’t Redefine It.”
Minnesota was voting on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, and the Catholic Church had been the most vocal proponent of the ballot measure.
Voters snapped photos of the banner, which quickly gained attention on Twitter and Facebook.
Ivan Kowalenko took one of those photos. He told Minnesota Public Radio, “I was shocked, I didn’t think that would be allowed. I was hearing that you’re not allowed to wear any political slogan of your own, so it doesn’t seem entirely appropriate that a voting venue would be allowed to express an opinion.”
At a separate polling place at St. Joseph’s Church in West St. Paul, Stephanie Weiss was waiting in line to vote, and she noticed a sign posted to the wall. It was a prayer, written by Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt, that urged Catholics to defend God’s plan for marriage — between one man and one woman.
She took a picture of the sign, which was shared on Facebook among many opponents of the amendment.
“I thought, this is why you can’t campaign within 100 feet. This is how you disenfranchise people, right here,” she told The Star Tribune. “If it isn’t campaign material, it was still a really insightful experience for me, but I’m shaking.”
In my hometown, I also vote in a church/parochial school, but none of this goes on. In fact, if you didn’t know where you were you’d have no idea that it was a Catholic school. We voted in a large room with nothing on the walls other than official election material and nothing like the sort of things cited above. There needs to be some strict rules on this. If you’re going to vote in a church, they should have to remove all material that is overtly political or religious from the places where voters will be that day.