How Congregations Can Help Reduce Election Chaos, Increase Safety for Voters
Although some parts of Pennsylvania’s election process are still being litigated, there are ways in which ELCA congregations and parishioners can offer assistance now to reduce stress and increase confidence in a system already dealing with existing and proposed changes in voting laws, significant election official turnover and glaring national attention tied to the commonwealth’s status as a battleground state and a potential “epicenter of chaos.”
After contacting all 67 Pennsylvania county offices, LAMPa assembled a spreadsheet of responses from election officials outlining current concerns, guidelines, and processes related to the November election. This is a “living” document and will be updated as new data arrives. Although most counties reported being prepared for anticipated massive response — either in-person or by mail-in ballot, others are still working to establish polling sites and fill them with necessary workers to avoid long lines and wait times while maintaining safe distancing during the pandemic. Even counties reporting that all bases appear to be covered are welcoming new applications via their online portals or by calling their elections offices. Congregations and parishioners are urged to offer their service to county election officials for Nov. 3, as poll workers, polling sites or judges of elections. (Counties provide guidance and official training.) Students as young as 17 are eligible. Please contact your elections officials now via the website links provided in the spreadsheet to volunteer in either capacity. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America offers encouragement and legal guidance for churches seeking to serve as polling places.
So far, these counties report needing reliable poll workers or judges of elections now: including: Blair, Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Delaware, Mifflin, Perry, Potter, Snyder, Somerset, Warren and York.
These counties are also in need of new polling precincts to make up for the closure or merging of some locations: Blair, Centre, Chester, Clarion, Delaware, Lebanon, Northumberland, Philadelphia, Schuylkill, Washington, and York.
At time of publication, these counties had not responded to inquiries: Allegheny, Armstrong, Bucks, Cambria, Clinton, Erie, Fayette, Franklin, Greene, Huntingdon, Indiana, Jefferson, Lackawanna, Lehigh, and Luzerne.
LAMPa will continue to reach out to the remaining counties and update information, but encourages faith leaders in those areas to reach out as well.
“Most elections staff were appreciative of the inquiry and offers of help,” said LAMPa Director Tracey DePasquale. “Many asked us to remind people to be kind, and some made special requests for prayers that they may do their jobs well.”
Across the commonwealth, county elections officials report having purchased machinery or scheduled additional staff to ensure accurate and efficient counting of mail-in ballots. Although most counties report ample machinery and staff, almost all officials recommend returning ballots as early as possible, either by mail or by dropping off at an official secure location. (Check your county’s website for those locations) to ensure votes are counted in time. When mailing your ballot, ensure that you follow all directions, especially regarding the secrecy envelope and required signatures. Ballots can be mailed or returned to county administrative buildings but cannot be submitted on behalf of another voter.
With a summer, and now fall, full of campaigns and misinformation to delegitimize the changes made in the 2020 election cycle, it is imperative for voters to have accurate information and be in communication with their county offices.
As the election draws nearer, county officials request that all voters, first and foremost express patience and kindness toward poll workers. It is also requested that voters wear masks and follow distancing guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, as will the poll workers themselves. Mail-in ballots should be requested as soon as possible, and completed ballots returned by Election Day (Nov. 3), but preferably earlier. This will help officials avoid unnecessary yet possible delays in announcing results. Taking such initiatives to ensure a free and fair election is one way you can participate in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s broader ELCAvotes campaign.
“For Lutherans, one way Christian vocation finds expression is through dedicated, competent public service,” states the ELCA social message, “Government and Civic Engagement in the United States: Discipleship in a Democracy.” Access to polling places is an important element of our political process. Myrna Perez, director of the voting rights and elections program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, is quoted in a June 2020 AP news article saying, “In the best of times, really long lines are deterring and disenfranchising. In the time of the coronavirus, long lines can be deadly.”
No voter should have to choose between their safety and their fundamental right to vote in November states BrennanCenter.org which shares the joint guidelines. The ELCAvotes initiative grew from the social policy resolution, “Voting Rights to All Citizens,” which calls on us to engage in local efforts and support legislation guaranteeing the right of all to vote. With planning and awareness of best practices, your congregation may be just the place to help facilitate democratic expression in your community and be of public service. Furthermore, the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, Forward Justice, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund are joining together to enlist “poll monitors.” Those who volunteer will be given training on how to be present at precincts to ensure everyone’s vote is counted and that all voters are equipped with personal protective equipment for their safety. You can sign up to be a poll monitor here.
To register by Oct. 19, check your voter registration status or follow changes to Pennsylvania’s elections process, visit the Pennsylvania Department of State website.