State Board of Elections to take up appeal Tuesday of next week
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Proponents of Sunday voting appear to be trying to sidestep the Anson County Board of Elections to get a hearing at the State Board, which is more friendly to the controversial practice.
“We understand that some churches would like to inspire voters during worship and then send them immediately to the polls to cast their ballot,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “But as much as we believe our faith should inform our voting, we don’t support polls opening on the Lord’s Day and we don’t support a local board being forced aside by those demanding to vote on Sunday.”
Last week, a meeting of the Anson County Board of Elections, during which the three-member body took up Sunday voting for the second time, turned into a heated disagreement which led to an appeal to the State Board, now set to be heard on Tuesday. But the question remains as to how the local board’s decision can legally be appealed to the state, which is supposed to hear only non-unanimous decisions.
According to the Anson Record, the Anson Board of Elections had voted unanimously Aug. 7 on early-voting days and hours that did not include Sundays, but decided to reconsider the issue after Chairman James Paxton had a change of heart. At Thursday’s meeting, after a brief executive session, Paxton made a motion to implement Sunday voting, but did not receive a second. Then board member Judy Little made a motion to keep the earlier agreed upon hours with an additional Saturday of voting, but again with no polls open on Sunday. The board again voted unanimously in favor of it.
Nonetheless, when some in the crowd of two to three dozen questioned the outcome, Paxton referred them to the State Board appeals process.
“What they’re doing is illegal because a unanimous vote by the local Board of Elections cannot be appealed,” said the Rev. Curtis Williams, pastor of Brown Creek Baptist and one of several people who had spoken against Sunday voting at the meeting. “They are claiming that since Mr. Paxton made a motion that the decision can be appealed, but a motion is not a vote.”
Williams cited Roberts Rules of Order, which shows a motion must have a second before it can even be entertained. Paxton said himself at the meeting his motion died for lack of that second.
“So in essence what happened in Anson County is that the Board of Elections twice voted unanimously on polling days and hours, and yet, their decision is being questioned and their authority potentially undermined simply because some people are demanding to be able to vote on Sunday,” said Dr. Creech. “We urge the State Board of Elections not to take up this appeal because it is not warranted and would truly violate the law to undo the actions of this local board. Voting is a privilege, not a right to be accessed on-demand.”
Don Wright, general counsel to the State Board of Elections, said the issue in Anson County involved a “lot of confusion and a lot of hostility,” and that the five-member state board would have to sort it all out on Tuesday morning at its 10 a.m. meeting. He confirmed that the state board accepted appeals only when decisions were not unanimous, but insisted that the Anson County vote was a “matter of interpretation.”
When asked which vote — the one on Aug. 7 or the one on Aug. 23 — was possibly not unanimous, he said he did not know the details of the situation and that it would be up to the board to decide.
Rev. Williams said he opposes Sunday voting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it can lead to churches violating IRS rules regarding their non-profit status.
“The ‘Souls at the Polls’ effort is a direct attempt to get people to go to church, then send them to the polls on a church bus and give them a sample ballot and tell them exactly how to vote, and it is utterly against tax laws,” he said.
Although churches can legally encourage voter registration and address any and all social issues from the pulpit, IRS rules prevent them from endorsing or contributing to candidates and handing out materials that specifically favor or oppose those running for office.
Rev. Williams said he already knows of some churches in Anson County that hand out marked sample ballots and Sunday voting would further encourage them to break the IRS rules. He also opposes Sunday voting because he believes the Lord’s Day is hallowed and should not be tainted by elections. He said he encourages his congregants to vote and will be preaching a series of messages between now and November on “some of the things we do in America that I think are totally against God.” Even so, he won’t name candidates or parties in his sermons.
Williams pointed out that Anson County residents have some 25 extra early-voting hours beyond what is required by the state, further making Sunday voting unnecessary.
Anson isn’t the only location where a push for Sunday voting has sparked controversy. Often the issue has split along party lines with Republicans opposing the practice in an effort to reduce fraud and ease the workload on those operating the polls and Democrats pushing for more voting opportunities, especially in the black community.
In Greenville, after the State Board of Elections supported two Sundays of early voting, the local Tea Party group announced plans to put up large placards to try to “shock the conscience” of African-Americans headed out to vote after church by reminding them of President Obama’s support for abortion and gay marriage.
Tea Party leader Diane Rufino told the media that Sunday voters would have “hopefully heard the word of God” and would ask themselves: “Do I vote for my heart and spirit or do I vote for the man?” She said Tea Party members believe Sunday should be reserved for family and religion and not politics.
Tuesday’s State Board of Elections meeting, which will include various appeals from nine different counties, is open to the public. It will begin at 10 a.m. at 441 North Harrington St., in Raleigh. For details, call (919) 715-1790.