We walked over to our new polling station this afternoon and voted. I was delighted to find the old-style voting machines still present; apparently my county missed some deadline and the new electronic machines aren’t available yet. I’ve always loved the privacy enforced by the circling curtain, the feeling of power welling up as each lever is pulled, the satisfying mechanical noises generated by cranking the big handle.
I was less thrilled about was the location itself: a church basement. I think it was a Catholic church, but the denomination is unimportant. I would have been equally uncomfortable in a mosque, or a synagogue, or a temple, or a chapel. Whatever happened to voting in public spaces? My two previous polling places were a fire station and a public library. This is what I am accustomed to, this is what I expect.
There is an elementary school two blocks away from the church. Why couldn’t we have voted there? My high school, middle school, and elementary school were all official polling stations growing up. I remember the election days of my childhood as exciting. And it wasn’t a distraction from academic lessons, but rather educational in its own right, a real live civics lesson. I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to finally vote myself. Are kids today being denied that peripheral involvement? For what possible reason?
Our polling station is not unique either; it turns out many churches serve as polling places, and I have just been fortunate thus far to be able to vote in neutral spaces. There were three separate wards voting in the church basement today, and a volunteer told me this is the first year they’ve all been combined there like that. Then my mother told me she got a card in the mail saying her polling station had been changed from the fire station where she’s voted for the last 20 years to, yep, you guessed it: a church. Coincidence?
It makes no sense to me. I would even go one step further. I think it’s wrong, through and through, just plain wrong. We all have a right to vote, regardless of our religious affiliation or lack thereof. None of us should be forced to go into a house of worship to exercise that civic right. And if you think I’m being overly sensitive, go ahead and read this. It's not about me.
It turns out that where you vote, the physical location of the polling station, actually influences the outcome of elections. For example, voters casting ballots in churches, like I did today, are less likely to support stem cell research than voters casting ballots in public spaces. My two points of anecdata suggests to a trend of more and more official polling places being moved to churches. And this frightens me, badly.