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.