November 4, 2020
- Nationwide clergy and lawyer network provided moral, legal support to voters at polling sites in contested states
- Despite high emotions, poor infrastructure, scattered attempts at voter intimidation and suppression, poll chaplains countered fear with peace
- Examples of collected stories from the community included and poll chaplains available for interviews
A network of over 1,000 clergy across the country volunteered as poll chaplains across nine states at over 60 different polling sites to ensure all voters had access to a fair, free and safe voting experience. The states include AL, AZ, FL, GA, MI, NC, OH, PA, WI.
Under the brand of Turnout Sunday/Lawyers & Collars Campaign, the “poll chaplains” were an organized group of interfaith, multiracial leaders, supported by election protection lawyers, that provided peace and power to vulnerable voters on Election Day. These faith leaders, acting on their call to care for the vulnerable, mobilized to ensure every person’s voice is heard in the U.S. democracy and that every vote gets counted. A Lawyers & Collars Clergy Hotline and Command Center, staff by election protection lawyers, provided additional support for the poll chaplain.
The ramp up to this year’s election was historical in many contexts – from the global pandemic forcing new voting systems across states, to expected protracted legal challenges to election results, to threats of voter intimidation and suppression rampant in many cities with predominant communities of color.
NOTES FROM THE CHAPLAINS:
- Polling sites in low-income areas of Birmingham were relocated with no explanation and very little warning to residents – many of whom typically struggle to acquire a reliable means of transportation
- New polling machines were malfunctioning and popular polling sites had incredibly limited occupancy when it came to the number of individuals that could vote at one time, despite long wait lines of over 900 individuals
- Lawyers & Collars poll chaplain Commissioner Sheila Tyson was there to galvanize the community and organize free rideshare services to get these voters safely to the polls and back home.
- Prior to Election Day, Commissioner Tyson and volunteers were reported to the Secretary of State office during the early voting period for illegal activity associated with ballots. Someone was deployed to investigate. Tyson and volunteers were legally distributing registration applications.
- While there was some voter suppression tactics in key cities, the Black voter turnout was at historic levels in key cities like Phoenix, Tucson, Sierra Vista, and Flagstaff.
- Arizona is a state in transition with an increase in Latinos and younger voters.
- This transition accounts for the historic election of the Black female County Commissioners in a five person very powerful County Commission.
- Black Voter turnout was very high in Broward County, a Black middle class enclave. It was not as high in Miami-Dade which is more diverse.
- People stood in line for hours during the early voting period, which is why we are not seeing massive numbers of voters on election day.
- A white man came to the polls with a gun and stood around outside after he was done casting his ballot, causing many to feel uneasy with his presence. He was eventually escorted away by law enforcement but many feel he would have been treated differently had he been a man of color
- There were also reports of voters being told, incorrectly, that they were at the wrong polling place, as well as polling machine malfunction
- At one polling site, a poll chaplain connected with a Moroccan immigrant voting for the first time. Bishop Claude Alexander said it was “refreshing” to see how much value he placed in the democratic process when so many can take that for granted.
- During the early voting period, individuals were standing in line for up to 11 hours and many brought lawn chairs and meals
- On Election Day, there were reports of malfunctioning voting machines and over 1,000 complaints reported
- There were scattered reports of Trump trucks and rallies around predominantly Black voting sites that were quickly dispersed.
- Though many Black voters used absentee mail-in ballots or in-person early voting, there was still a massive number of voters on election day. The lines were not as long, but there was a steady stream of voters.
- The voting experience was primarily positive except with reports in rural, small towns that had interference from Trump supporters and their caravans
- Election officials chose as a voting site a private building under construction. But when people showed up to vote, the construction crew blocked the voters from entering until poll chaplain Angela Shute Woodson showed up and appealed to election officials who forced the construction company to allow voters inside.
- The lead poll chaplain, Pastor Keon Gerow, remarked that the neighborhoods he visited felt “electrified” and that voter turnout was “staggering.”
- Poll chaplain Dr. Alyn Waller reported that it would take a day or two before the winner is declared, but the massive turnout in Philadelphia, he said, “gives me hope of a Pennsylvania victory for change.”
- There was a steady stream of voters in key Wisconsin cities according to poll chaplain Dr. Richard Shaw with little of the predicted voter suppression.
“We’ve done our part, we’ve done what we could do, the rest is in God’s hands” says Bishop Claude Alexander, lead poll chaplain in North Carolina. In advocating for patience and hope in the context of a protracted vote count, he references Isaiah 40:15 “Before God, nations and states are but drops in a bucket. Princes and presidents are grasshoppers.”
Referencing Zechariah 9:12, Rev. Adam Taylor, President-elect of Sojourners says “I remain a prisoner of hope seeing the record-breaking turnout and seeing the moral presence of clergy at polling sites,” in reflecting his role as a poll chaplain in Philadelphia on Election day.
“Our job isn’t done at the end of the day,” said Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Co-Convener, National African American Clergy Network and President of Skinner Leadership Institute. “We must remain vigilant all the way to the end to ensure everyone’s vote is counted.”
“This election was, fundamentally, about deciding what kind of nation we want to become,” said Sojourners Founder Rev. Jim Wallis. “The absence of moral revulsion toward an overt racist will leave an indelible stain within our Christian community. Our faith should compel us to be more principled in our care toward others in order to build an inclusive, multiracial democracy.”
“What this year of protest has taught us is that, no matter the election outcome, it does not stop on this day. We must continue to advocate for the issues that matter to us. Protest is one step. Voting is another. We must go from protest, to the polls, to impacting policy,” said Sojourners Director of Racial Justice and Mobilizing, and AME pastor, Rev. Terrance M. McKinley.
WHERE & WHO (State Leads)
Commissioner Sheila Tyson
Dr. Warren H. Stewart Sr.
Ms. Kim McCray
Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale
Rev. Dr. Steve Bland Jr.
Bishop Claude Alexander
Ms. Jaladah Aslam
Rev. Dr. Alyn Waller
Bishop Sylvester Williams
Additional details and contact:
- Organization: Turnout Sunday/Lawyers & Collars
- Interviews : For interview with state leads and L&C leadership, contact firstname.lastname@example.org