Reporting Jason DeRusha
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – When we think of polling places, we think city hall, park buildings and schools. But more and more of us are voting in churches.
“I know polling places are often held in places of worship… but this seems contrary to ‘separation of church and state,’ especially in this election. Might this sway a voter?” asked Maria Kolman, of Minneapolis.
Why do we vote where we pray?
“Churches are great locations,” said Rachel Smith, the Hennepin County Elections Manager.
She says churches aren’t chosen out of any agenda to sway voters, rather, they’re chosen because they’re practical.
And they’re chosen a lot. A WCCO-TV analysis of polling places in Hennepin County found at least 155 of the 402 polling places are in places of worship, nearly 39 percent of all polling places.
In Ramsey County, 47 out of 179 polling places are places of worship or religious buildings, about 26 percent. All five polling places in New Brighton are churches.
According to Smith, local city clerks work with polling place locations, and, frankly, it can be hard to get locations to agree to do it.
“Facilities need to be willing to accommodate the hours, the parking, the traffic from voters,” Smith said.
Churches are handicapped-accessible, and they are usually empty on Election Day.
In fact, more schools are asking to not be election sites, Smith says.
“Schools house a number of children, sometimes there are security concerns about voters going through and not having enough security control within the school,” she said.
On Facebook, Robb wrote: “A church is sign and symbol enough to provide an atmosphere of hesitation… that would be intimidating for any voter.”
This year, many churches have taken a visible position on the marriage amendment, some arguing Vote Yes, others arguing Vote No.
“We’ve worked with all the polling places in the county and asked if they do have a sign up they have it removed for election day purposes,” Smith said.
In North Carolina, a group petitioned the state to ban church polling places, but they were denied. There have also been federal lawsuits filed to remove churches as polling places. But the courts have always ruled that the government is not establishing a religion by holding an election in a church.
“Really, we’re looking for the best way to accommodate a large number of people coming out to vote on Election Day,” Smith said.
For information on 2012 polling places, click here.