Of the twenty-four polling locations in Athens Clarke County, only two are in churches. On Tuesday, voters lined up in heavy rain outside the East Athens Baptist Church waiting for their chance to vote. Although many voters don’t think twice about voting in a church, some believe that this could cause issues with the First Amendment.
According to section 501(c)(3) of the United States Internal Revenue Code, churches are exempt from taxes so long as they don’t take part in any political campaigns. This could be another cause for concern, but many voters don’t think that holding elections in a church should negate this tax exemption and agree that churches shouldn’t take a particular political stance.
“I think it can definitely make some people uncomfortable,” said Tiffany Linhardt, 30. She’s a UGA IT worker and a Presbyterian. “Separation of church and state probably gets a little icky when you’ve got certain pastors that are trying to preach a particular message or something like where they’re trying to advocate along the lines of politics.”
“I’ve voted in churches much of my life,” said Lisa Bayer, the director of the University of Georgia Press, GA press. She voted in Illinois until recently. “I would assume in some urban places they probably have polling places in some mosques or synagogues.”
“If, for say, a mosque tried to get, tried to be established as a polling station, and they (Board of Elections) refused them, that would be wrong,” said Roderick Roberts, a 40-year-old consumer safety inspector for the USDA. But Roberts doesn’t necessarily believe that holding elections in a church violates separation of church and state.
“I just feel like it’s… we’re on holy ground. They don’t have polling stations that I know of, in a synagogue or the Muslim Church on Milledge Avenue,” said Greg Etheridge, a Christian and 33-year-old carpenter. In the past, Etheridge was a member of congregations led by very political pastors, but the mix of politics and preaching drove him away.
“Since there’s public facilities that could accommodate this, I feel like it should be done on public property,” said Etheridge. Despite his objections Etheridge does not believe that churches violate the tax code by hosting elections.
“I am from Europe. If you vote, you vote in official building. State, government building, not some religious places,” said Kasim Cardzac. He’s an electrical mechanic from Bosnia-Herzegovina and a Muslim who has lived in the U.S. for 14 years.