This November, the United States will hold an election amidst a pandemic that has claimed over 180,000 American lives. Religious leaders can play a crucial role in ensuring a safe, accessible, smoothly-run election.
There are over 380,000 houses of worship in the United States and 228,000 religious nonprofits. Religious leaders are some of the most trusted leaders in their communities because of their ability to stay above the partisan fray. Throughout American history, religious communities have stepped up to protect access to voting, to care for our communities in the face of illnesses, and to bring people together. This year they can play a crucial role in ensuring an accessible election where every eligible voter can participate safely, in providing accurate information and resources about the election, and set an example on how to come together across differences.
Below are five nonpartisan, nonpolitical actions religious communities can take to support our democracy this fall.
1. Promote Working at the Polls this November
Our polling locations have relied on the service of older Americans, most of whom cannot work this fall because of the dangers of COVID-19. As our election system faces a shortage of poll workers, the enormous civic contributions of religious communities can be put toward preserving safe, accessible voting this fall.
In most states, poll workers are paid for their service. For religious community members who are out of work, serving as poll workers is a way to make money in these challenging economic times.
Take action: Encourage community members to sign up for Power the Polls. This organization makes it easy to sign up, and they have signed up over 300,000 people to date. Your denomination or house of worship can go further and become an official partner here.
2. Be a source of truthful information
Religious institutions are sources of trusted information in our communities. In a complicated election, they can step up in a sea of confusion and disinformation.
Take action: Promote and partner with National Voter Registration Day to register your members and Vote Early Day so members know how to cast their ballots before Election Day. Post links to “Election 411” or The National Association of Secretaries of State’s “Can I Vote?” guide fors easy access to accurate up-to-date information so they can:
- Check voter registration status;
- Find their polling location;
- Request an absentee or mail-in ballot; and
- Keep up with changing information related to the election.
Religious leaders should encourage their congregations to ease the burden on our election systems by requesting and returning ballots as early as they can, taking advantage of early voting opportunities, and make a plan to vote.
Many religious organizations distribute voter guides to their membership. These guides should incorporate nonpartisan information on how to vote in this year’s election.
3. Feed the hungry – people waiting in long lines to vote
Feeding people who are in need is a central tenet of many American religions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, religious communities have stepped up to provide food in their communities. On Election Day, some precincts will face long enough lines that people will be tempted to leave. Religious communities can take on the call to feed the hungry in a new way: providing food and water to people waiting in line to vote.
Take action: Raise funds for Pizza to the Polls, one of most efficient ways to provide food to people waiting in long lines at the polls. Talk to your local election officials about how your religious community can provide food and water for people at the polls, being sure to follow all local election laws.
4. Offer space as an early voting or Election Day polling location
No matter how much absentee voting is expanded, our communities will continue to need in-person polling locations on Election Day. Polling locations need to be ADA-compliant, large enough for voters to maintain social distancing, and able to meet the sanitation requirements set by local officials. Houses of worship often meet the standards for a polling place. While some local governments only allow government buildings to serve as polling locations, houses of worship can offer their space as a polling location in many others.
5. Model ways to overcome divisions in a polarized country
Public polling shows shocking levels of polarization in the United States. Religious communities are often made up of people from different backgrounds and political ideologies who still come together to take part in their religious rituals. Religious communities can be a model for how our country can come together across our differences and maintain support for our civil institutions no matter who wins the election.
Take Action: Learn more about how to build bridges and promote belonging:
- The Better Arguments Project helps communities and organizations to bridge divides – not by papering over those divides but by helping Americans have “better arguments”.
- One America Movement equips leaders with the skills to confront the challenges facing their communities by working together and engaging differences meaningfully.
- Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation’s “Rebuilding Democracy” project provides an example of how religious communities can promote democratic ideals through their own rrituals and traditions.
- Read these two excellent reports that describe how Christians can contribute to our democracy: Christianity and a Healthy Democracy by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Christianity, Pluralism, and Public Life by The Trinity Forum.
Meeting this Challenge
Religious leaders and their communities can play a crucial role in meeting the unprecedented challenges we face in this election. All of the freedoms that we enjoy as Americans — including our religious freedom — depend on the integrity of our elections. Americans of all faiths and of no faith at all have a stake in ensuring safe, accessible voting and a strong system to receive and count those votes.