Voting in Church

VOTE TODAYI’ll spare you, dear reader, of a rundown of how I voted except to say that I split my ticket among several parties and write-ins and literally nobody I voted for won (including, of course, me). No, what I want to talk about is an issue about my polling place, the wall of separation between church and state and the responsiveness of my local Board of Elections to a complaint. (If you don’t already know I’m a bit of a complainer (see link above)). I’m also a firm believer in a piece of wisdom one of my coworkers has posted in his office- Don’t complain about what you permit. So know that I’m only ranting here because I also ranted to the “proper authorities.” Squeaky wheel gets the grease and all that.

For the last election cycle (and actually as far back as 2006, as far as I recall) my polling place had been the local Community Center. Other local elections have been held at various other locations in the village, including the fire department and the school. All public venues, open and welcoming to everyone in the community (our tax dollars at work!). This year the day before the election I went on to the website of the county Board of Elections to confirm my polling location at the Community Center. Imagine my surprise when I saw that my polling place had been changed. Not to the fire department or the school. Not to the newly renovated village hall. Not to the town hockey arena that literally just sits empty otherwise. No, to the Presbyterian Church.

Now look, I’m not going to make this the hill I die on and it’s a minor issue in the scheme of things, but I object to having to cast my ballot in a house of worship. Here’s the basic reason why: My participation in government that prohibits the establishment of religion should not compel me to enter an established house of worship. I know some recent court cases like Town of Greece have given some leeway on sectarian prayer at the local governmental level, but voting is one of our fundamental rights, and I shouldn’t have to do it in the shadow of a cross.

Consider, as the Freedom From Religion Foundation has, that “studies show that a church polling location does impact election results. This should be concerning to all citizens. Here is a summary of one study: http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/news/research/pubpolicy_wheeler_pollinglocation.shtml.”  So I wrote in to complain to my county Board of Elections and received the following response:

Section 11-300 of the state Election Law allows persons whose personal scruples prevent them from voting at a religiously affiliated institution to vote during the seven days prior to election by special ballot at the Board of Elections. Voters are notified via a yellow post card of any polling place changes during the summer, this can help as a “flag” if there is a personal issue for an individual voter.

The Board is required to use properties exempt from taxation as polling places. Houses of worship and religious affiliated facilities (the Jewish Community Center or Catholic Charities offices, as examples) are a necessary part of that mix; as are school buildings which now have many valid security concerns that were unheard of just a few years ago. As you undoubtedly know, two fire stations are already utilized as polling places in Skaneateles.

Thank you for taking the time to express your opinion.


Chris Shepherd
Elections Assistant
Onondaga County Board of Elections

The Presbyterian Church, and no doubt the Jewish Community Center and Catholic Charities, are tax exempt organizations that sometimes dabble and sometimes dive right into politics. They have political agendas and missions that run counter to those of many voters- not just atheists- but believers of other sects as well. In fact, I would argue that because of their political activities many of these organizations shouldn’t even qualify for tax exemptions at all. But that’s a whole other argument for another day. We should strive to hold our elections at secular community venues. Next year I’ll either vote absentee or I could drive a half hour to downtown Syracuse, park my car in a garage, and navigate the county office building. But that doesn’t mean I should have to. Civic participation is important to me. Voting alongside friends and neighbors means something to me. But I’ll sacrifice it in order to bypass having to participate in this charade.

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Managing my #depression and #anxiety. Sober for one year and counting. #Mentalhealth advocate. Black cat wrangler. Son. Brother. Uncle. Mad man with a blog.

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