Electioneering agreement

I don’t know if you heard about this back in May:

“A true marriage is male and female and God.” These words appear on the nameplate sign in front of the Devon Park United Methodist Church in Wilmington – a church that also served as a polling place Tuesday for voters in New Hanover County. The sign, which officials say is legal, raised concerns from voters and others questioning the fairness of having people vote in a location that features a message about a controversial ballot measure.
Inside, voters from precinct W28 chose candidates for party primaries and decided for or against a state constitutional amendment that would define marriage between one man and one woman as the only legal union valid in North Carolina.
Once the votes were counted, the tally showed that more people at the precinct actually voted against the amendment, though the proposal passed statewide. Of the 773 ballots cast at the precinct on the question, 482 people voted against the amendment, while 291 voted for it.

So voters went against the amendment despite the sign.

However, there’s this:

Interestingly, recent research has suggested that the location of a polling place can affect voters’ choices through a phenomenon called “contextual priming.” A 2008 paper by Jonah Berger, Marc Meredith, and S. Christian Wheeler found that voters who cast ballots at public schools were more likely to support school funding initiatives – with the effect persisting even when controlling for voters’ political views and other factors like demographics. The study suggests that similar effects could occur in the case of voting at churches but notes that more study is required. In any event, the authors suggest that even if some priming effect exists, there may be ways to mitigate the effects by limiting them in the polling environment.

This is the solution they came up with:

After a church sign seen as urging voters to support an amendment banning same-sex marriage in North Carolina sparked a firestorm during last month’s primaries, New Hanover County election officials agreed on Friday to explore ways of preventing polling places from advocating political views.
In a decision likely to reverberate with voters on both sides of the controversy, the three-member county Board of Elections decided to formulate a new policy requesting a good-faith agreement from private institutions used as polling places – such as churches and community organizations – to forgo using the opportunity to make a political statement concerning an issue on the ballot.
“That was a political statement and was inappropriate,” said Geneva Reid, a member of the elections board. She added later: “I would like to have some policy, or some guidelines, whereby we explain to the people who are letting us use their facilities what we need from them and what we in turn promise to do.”
The board’s move to ask institutions doubling as polling places to refrain from expressing their positions reflects a calculated response that seeks to balance voters’ needs with free-speech rights and Election Day etiquette.
Officials on Friday said Devon Park’s sign was legal because it stood outside the buffer zone required for electioneering.

My polling place is in a church with one of those huge church message boards out front, but I no longer go there because we have in-person absentee early voting, which I love. I’m never going back to voting on election day.

46 replies
  1. 1
    FlipYrWhig says:

    I voted in church basements a lot when I lived in Philadelphia. Lots of twelve-step slogans on the walls, that sort of thing. I didn’t care for it.

  2. 2
    PurpleGirl says:

    My polling place is the community room in one of the buildings in my Co-Op complex. In fact, this polling location mainly handles the people living in the complex and maybe on a few blocks surrounding the complex. I formerly voted in a public school and then in a restaurant.

  3. 3
    shortstop says:

    Although they never do any electioneering on site, my polling place is at an Islamic college. HOW is that even LEGAL?!

    Just snarkin’. I really do vote at an Islamic college, though.

  4. 4
    shortstop says:

    @PurpleGirl: You’re in Manhattan, right? I love polling places in dense cities. My last voting venue before this one served three precincts consisting of one very large high-rise and a few low-rises. It was a mighty short walk to vote.

  5. 5
    Amir Khalid says:

    As long as you’re not voting on a measure to impose shariah law on non-Muslims in your state, I guess you’ll be safe from undue influence.

  6. 6
    shortstop says:

    @Amir Khalid: I actually worry a tiny bit about living so close to an Islamic college. Of course, the only thing I’m worried about is some dumbass, vicious Christian bombing the place.

  7. 7
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    The solution is simple: ban from designated polling places any messages which could be construed as pro-liberal, pro-Democrat, or anti-Christian. Only true Christian and pro-Real American messages will be permitted. Honestly, I don’t understand why you people have to always make things so danged complicated all the time.

  8. 8
    c u n d gulag says:

    The worst sign I ever saw at a church was about a decade ago, in, of all places – North Carolina.

    This was back when there was a particular ad for Bud beer.

    The sign said:
    “Jesus – His Blood’s For You!”

    I damn near drove off the road at the sheer tackiness of it, if tacky is the right word for loathsome.

  9. 9
    Joseph P. says:

    They should have changed it to “Too hot for ya? Come on in…we have prayer conditioning!” or something similar.

  10. 10
    jibeaux says:

    I adore the first amendment and the right to free speech, and in NC you can get pretty close to the door of the polling station with your free speech. But my issue is that the sign belongs to the church/voting locale. It is, effectively the same thing as hanging a sign on the church as you walk in the door, which wouldn’t be allowed but which is a distinction without a difference as far as I’m concerned. And I think for people to have faith in the process, they need to have confidence that they are voting in a politically neutral location. They need to have confidence that their vote will be counted and that the people working there can be trusted. But until the unlikely event that the general assembly tightens this up, individual counties changing their evaluation of polling places in such a manner may be the best we can do.

  11. 11
    merl says:

    I have voted in person one time in the last 20 years. I have been voting absentee ever since. Now the entire state is vote by mail

  12. 12
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    So, when are the absentee votes counted where you are, Kay?

  13. 13
    joeyess says:

    Here in eastern Kansas, all our polling places are in churches. I think it should be against the law. Period.

  14. 14
    4tehlulz says:

    “A true marriage is male and female and God.”

    bow chicka bow wow

  15. 15
    Kay says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent):

    We have an optical scan system here. It’s a paper ballot, marked with a pen, and then scanned by the voter at the polling place with election day voting.

    I vote an early ballot, which goes in a sealed envelope. They verify that the information on the outside is correct, and they keep a running tally of early vote envelopes received, but they scan early votes and absentees on election day in this county so we’re counting all votes on the same day.

  16. 16

    This is fascinating, thanks for posting this. I thought I was the only one who had a problem with their polling place. We’re supposed to vote at the Boy Scouts of America building, and the building itself is named after far-right local GOP moneybags Lee Beaman (whom I wrote about today because he’s giving money to the Koch Bros.) I never liked having to vote at the Boy Scouts because they’re anti-gay hypocrites, so that was the main reason I started taking advantage of early voting, which enabled me to go to the public library nearby instead.

    I always wondered how Muslims feel voting in a church, or if an Islamic Center would ever be picked as a polling place and what the outrage might be from small minded Christian folks.

  17. 17

    Also, why didn’t that church get threatened with losing its tax exempt status for its signage at a polling place? They knew exactly what they were doing.

  18. 18

    When working an election, I remember the pastor of one church that served as a polling location removing all the Democrat’s yard signs that framed the entrance on election day. He left the R yard signs of course.

    Churches should not be polling locations at all.

  19. 19
    Kay says:

    @Southern Beale:

    Looking at the picture it does look obvious, although the “Vote Here” is in the foreground, so probably not directly beneath the message on how to vote :)

  20. 20
    slag says:

    @4tehlulz: Yes. Apparently, God is also the pizza delivery/cable/pool guy. All knowing, indeed.

  21. 21

    New Hanover County is home to UNC Wilmington, so that vote will have been skewed by all those DFH students voting.

    PS) Thank you so much for all of those who helped out with Ellie Wyatt’s vet fund. I truly appreciate it.

  22. 22
    Brachiator says:

    My polling place is in a church with one of those huge church message boards out front, but I no longer go there because we have in-person absentee early voting, which I love. I’m never going back to voting on election day.

    My current polling place is at a car dealership. Yes, they could buy my vote if they gave me a new car.

    My previous polling places were in churches. Since the voter officials were community volunteers, I never assocated the religious institution with any aspect of voting. I can’t even remember which denomination one of the churches was. Another time I voted at a library, but did not check out any books.

    I just see these places as temporay locations where the official business of civic government, voting, takes place. What the places are or represent doesn’t influence me at all. I might feel different if church employees were election officials, but that’s not the case.

  23. 23
    Roc says:

    Doesn’t contextual priming key off your position on the context itself?

    So if the area wasn’t particularly religious, the priming effect of voting at a church would be expected to remind voters that they aren’t particularly religious and make them more likely to vote against proposals with strong religious support. And the stronger the context is asserted (e.g. the plaque), the more distortion one would expect.

  24. 24
    Bill in Bryan, TX says:

    I vote in a far-rightwing babtist church here in East-Central Texas. I love voting against the “Pubs in that building ….

  25. 25
    cmorenc says:


    I formerly voted in a public school and then in a restaurant.

    If your polling place was in a restaurant, what if one of the candidates for major office had the last name “Burger” and the restaurant had a sign on the wall saying “our Burger’s the best!”?

  26. 26
    PurpleGirl says:

    @shortstop: I’m in Queens. The complex is the Big Six Towers. I’m in building #4 and the polling place is in building #2 — all of a minute walk. And most of the poll workers live in the Big Six.

  27. 27
    Geoduck says:

    Washington state has gone to all mail-in, and while losing the community aspect is a little sad, it really does work better. People can fill out the ballot at their leisure and not have to take half a day off work to stand in line. Before they switched over, my last polling place was a church, but I don’t recall them being at all obnoxious about messaging. I also don’t remember ever seeing ANY campaign signs posted anywhere near the voting site..

  28. 28

    I blame the Romans. They should have had more lions. Idiots!

  29. 29
    Kay says:


    I never noticed what was on the church sign, so that’s not why I went to early voting. I just like early voting because it’s more convenient. One Tuesday never made sense to me and it still doesn’t.

  30. 30
    Brachiator says:


    I never noticed what was on the church sign, so that’s not why I went to early voting. I just like early voting because it’s more convenient. One Tuesday never made sense to me and it still doesn’t.

    Makes perfect sense. So far, the churches and schools and other religious and civic buildings I have used have gone out of their way to conform to the law and avoid anything that might hint of electioneering. No signs, etc.

    But I do understand your concerns.

  31. 31
    Origuy says:

    My polling place moves around. This year it was at the county mental heath center. Seems fitting.

    My area used to be orchards everywhere. I’ve gone to that place to vote for years and this is the first time I’ve noticed that they had cherry trees along the parking lot. Maybe this was the first time I’ve been there while they had fruit. Yum.

  32. 32
    Death Panel Truck says:

    I live in Washington, and I voted absentee until the state went to vote by mail. I haven’t stepped foot in a polling place since 1992. I think all states should go to vote by mail. I know a lot of people still wouldn’t vote, but at least they couldn’t use the excuse that they didn’t have the time.

    Actually, I think voting should be compulsory, but that’s another matter entirely.

  33. 33
    Origuy says:

    @Southern Beale:

    Also, why didn’t that church get threatened with losing its tax exempt status for its signage at a polling place? They knew exactly what they were doing.

    IANAL, but it’s allowed for churches to take stands on issues. They just can’t endorse (or demur) specific candidates.

  34. 34
    Mnemosyne says:

    My polling place has been steady for a couple of years at a building owned by a nearby church, but it’s a gymnasium across the street from the actual church.

    Polling places in Los Angeles County seem to move around a lot. I remember at my old apartment, I once voted in someone’s garage. That was kinda cool. And for the primary in 2008, the polling place was the neighborhood fire station.

  35. 35
    gex says:

    @Brachiator: The rules get thrown out on the gays issue because, ostensibly, it was non-partisan. Interestingly enough, Obama’s recent statement has had the effect of making marriage equality the Democratic position on the issue to the point where this could now be considered partisan.

    Or what @Origuy: said. Even though we all know this is a culture war proxy for D vs. R it officially is simply issue advocacy and not partisan.

  36. 36
    Delia says:

    In Oregon everyone’s polling place is their own home. Last time I lived in California it was the rec center of my townhome complex. One time it was a local church but the only posted on the outside board was the weekly meeting schedule.

    Vote by mail eliminates a lot of polling place intimidation problems.

  37. 37
    Comrade Scrutinizer says:

    Never felt particularly intimidated by a voting location. In fact, I rather enjoyed voting against NC-1 in a Baptist church this year. I felt like I was giving the Xtians a big “fuck you!” along with my vote.

  38. 38
    Julie says:

    Echoing all the OR/WA folks who love vote-by-mail. It really does solve a whole lot of problems — plus has the added benefit of giving people time to actually research the issues before handing in their ballot. You get voter registration reminders by mail as well, and you can register/update your registration online.

  39. 39
    muddy says:

    @c u n d gulag: I saw one (again in NC) that said, “Carve your name on hearts, not on marble”. We thought it was serial-killer-ish. My son suggested we go buy a beef heart at the Food Lion and carve SATAN on it, and burn the edges, then leave it on the front step.

    They might have thought about that too, as they were out of hearts that week, and they usually had plenty. It was disappointing.

  40. 40
    Haydnseek says:

    Wait a minute Kay…What, pray tell is “in person absentee voting?” I know what absentee voting is-you’re not there. I know what “in person” voting is-you are there. I know what early voting is-you’re there (or somewhere) before election day. But how can you be in person and absentee simultaneously? I must be missing something. As the Firesign Theatre asks “How can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?”

  41. 41
    The prophet Nostradumbass says:

    Polling places in California are issued signs by the registrar of voters stating that electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place is illegal.

  42. 42
    Joseph Nobles says:

    Contextual priming isn’t mitigated by keeping the signs at the church non-political. It happens just because you’re voting in a church building.

  43. 43
    kay says:


    I know in person absentee sounds ridiculous, but that’s actually what it’s called.

    You’d have to know that in the olden days, prior to 2004, Ohio required a reason for voting absentee. Now they don’t, so it’s in person absentee.

    Plus, lawyers wrote it :)

  44. 44
    Mnemosyne says:


    You’d have to know that in the olden days, prior to 2004, Ohio required a reason for voting absentee. Now they don’t, so it’s in person absentee.

    I noticed on my sample ballot this year that California doesn’t call it “absentee voting” anymore. Now it’s called “Vote by Mail.”

    Personally, I like going down to the polls on Election Day, partly because I have fond memories of my mother taking me into the voting booth with her, and partly because I have ADHD and can guarantee you that I would find my “Vote by Mail” ballot sitting in a pile of mail order catalogs five months after the election was over.

    @Joseph Nobles:

    I thought the interesting thing about the article was that contextual voting doesn’t always go the way one would expect, though. The fact that more people at the church voted against the anti-gay ballot measure makes me think that people can have a conscious or subconscious reaction against the context.

  45. 45
    Haydnseek says:

    @kay: Thanks Kay, I appreciate it. Just a bit cranky today and that term just sort of pushed the wrong button.

  46. 46
    Erika says:

    I’m sorry. I’m not marrying God. He’s way too needy and often abusive.

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