From Tampa Bay to Toledo to Tucson, pastors, Reform rabbis, imams, and Milwaukee Zen Center's female priest are training to volunteer as poll chaplains in swing states facing a tempestuous Election Day. Poll chaplains know that anywhere votes are cast in their states, mobs armed with Confederate flags, violent conspiracy theories, and (in open carry states) guns. Preventing voters from bullies is one of their sacred duties. But like Daniel in the lions' den, the poll chains will be armed with nothing but their faith.
Their goal is to instill a sense of calm and compassion at polling places in an era when even elderly veteran ballot watchers are harassed with death threats. The volunteer clergy will also The chaplains will also answer voters' questions accurately, about what ID is needed, for example. And they will be ready to get wheelchairs for the frail or elderly exhausted by long lines in blazing heat or bitter cold.
Former Congressional Black Caucus director Barbara Williams-Skinner, a poll chaplain trainer, told a recent class they could be "atmosphere changers...the difference between chaos and order." She assured the volunteers that a crowd becomes more respectful, perhaps prone to give a few seconds of thought before acting on an angry impulse, when they see a reverend's collar or stole, or a rabbi's yarmulke.
"What if you're a pastor who doesn't wear a collar?" a volunteer asked nervously.
"Use masking tape to print the words POLL CHAPLAIN on the back of your jacket," a trainer quickly suggests.
It sounds a lot like reporters wearing the mask-taped word "TV" on their jackets like an amulet when entering a war zone.
Williams-Skinner urged volunteers to sign up for shifts of no longer three hours because the stress was going to be immense.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE GUYS WITH GUNS SHOW UP
Poll chaplains volunteered during the 2020 elections across America with 200 in Atlanta alone, some from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s historic Ebenezer Baptist as well as Emory University seminary students. Now, clergy can volunteer through several organizations including the New Georgia Project, Faith United to Save Democracy, the National Council of Churches, and the Lawyers and Collars. This year there will be hotlines for voters who witness or suffer intimidation with experts fluent in Spanish, Arabic, and an array of Asian languages ready to help. The poll chaplain outreach is focused on ten states Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.
A volunteer responded with the question invoked weighing on a lot of chaplains' minds; how do we keep voters safe if a crowd carrying Don't Tread on Me flags and guns tries to intimidate voters?
"Pray with people," was one tip McCarthy offered.
Some chaplains who volunteered in 2020 found that people will calm down when a chaplain asks them to join in prayer for God to bless a peaceful, fair, honest election for all registered to vote including military personnel, the elderly, and the disabled in wheelchairs. Sojourners, the decades-old ministry to the impoverished, published an article in its magazine sharing how its poll chaplains handled two rough confrontations.
"In North Carolina, a man came to the polls with a gun and stood outside after he was done casting his ballot, causing many to feel uneasy with his presence."
Poll chaplain Bishop Claude Alexander contacted local law enforcement who shepherded the gunman on his way."In Ohio, the election officials chose a private building under construction as a voting site. 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."https://sojo.net/articles/poll-chaplains-report-intimidation-attempts-stories-hope
But even back in 2020, when the Army for Trump was recruiting poll watchers by warning them to look for corruption, the nonpartisan New Georgia Project was advising poll chaplains on how to respond in active shooter situations,
McCarthy told his trainees about a fight that was about to break out at a polling place in 2020. The chaplain fell to the ground clutching his chest. Both sides paused, confused. Some tried to help the fallen clergyman, worried he was having a heart attack. The rage dissipated.
But as indicated by the violent attack on Paul Pelosi--and the failure of Republican Senators like Ted Cruz to condemn it--hatred of democracy may propel some protesters to the polls.
In addition to recruiting poll chaplains, Faith Works tackles prosaic but essential tasks like providing free rides for elderly voters to the polls. The volunteer organization released a video showcasing bizarre responses to his work.
"We don't need democracy. That's Satan's work," one tweeted adding the hope for an America with only GOP officials in charge.