Every two years in the United States of America we have federal, state, and local midterm elections. And every year we hear from politicians or administrative officials about why we should vote for them (or not vote for their opponent). The people elected during midterms become the leaders who manage our communities’ money, advocate for our well being, determine how our justice system works, shape our education systems, provide for our safety, dispose of our waste, maintain our environment, and more. Local and state elections are the most impactful on our day to day lives and yet few of us even know who our representatives, administrators, or public officials are.
Our democracy is at stake. Politicians, media outlets, public figures, scholars, researchers, activists, and others have all sounded the alarm. There are thousands of people across the country working in coordinated ways to undermine our system of elections, take control of our local governments, and advocate for political violence. Many of those who are part of this movement claim to be Christians. There are politicians running and influencers on social media who have convinced millions of Americans to place greater faith in lies and liars than in Christ Himself. They devote their energy toward upholding election lies and won’t trust anyone that doesn’t agree with them. They are unmoved by evidence, only valuing the echoes of affirmation in their social circles.They have created a religion of suspicion and their faith is distrust. Believers must stand in contrast with the false followers of Jesus who are really white Christian nationalists and make sure to vote for leaders who represent justice, equality, value, and care for all people regardless of their background. We cannot support or endorse hate, fear, and violence in the name of our Lord and call it faithfulness. We have learned we cannot be slaves to single issues at the federal level and neglect policies and positions at the local and state levels. We have to vote in midterm elections like this one, or our votes may become truly meaningless in the future. It is only pride that keeps us from seeing that if fascist governments can rise in other other countries that it can happen here if we do not participate.
As a voters we fall easily and deeply into tribalism, the identification and support of leaders we feel like are part of “our group.” Unfortunately when we do not have a president to vote for, most of us don’t vote at all. According to Pew Research Center 62% of people of voting age turned out in the 2020 elections, which was a record breaking number, mostly fueled by the bitter cultural wars in the Presidential race. But consider that means that 38% of people who could vote, did not. In midterm elections the numbers are usually under 50%. Literally the minority of people elect leaders who impact all of our lives. And yet when we don’t vote or care about who to vote fore beyond the top officials, we miss out on a critical piece of our democracy.
West side of the Capitol Building at Capitol Hill in Washington DC. Daily photos in the afternoon, good for late autumn, winter and early spring illustration
We are engaged and fervent whenever we elect the president, even though most of us will never meet them and rarely understand their impact on our day to day lives. A president is a symbolic leader for many of us, representing our collective hopes, aspirations, and ultimate accountability. But a president can make none of the changes we imagine for ourselves and our communities without the cooperation and support of the legislature. The laws passed by legislative bodies are ineffective when the courts don’t enforce them. Our entire government is built on cooperation between branches and accountability through voting, both of which are under greater threat than many of us could imagine. We must vote in midterm elections, otherwise our desires to see flourishing in our communities will remain only dreams. We need to know who our tax assessor is, our city council members, our sheriffs, our judges, our attorney generals, our state representatives, our county officials, our congresspeople, and our governors.
As people of faith we have an even greater responsibility to be informed voters and to vote. The United States of America is not the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the eternal King of the Kingdom and He is not up for election. No leader can serve as proxy for Jesus over our lives or our nation. We are not voting to put Jesus Christ in office. He is already reigning over everything by His own power. But we can absolutely elect leaders who agree with our Christian principles of justice, help for the poor, safety for children, value for all lives, and care for the environment. We must look to our faith to inform what matters in our personal politics, and value other people’s faith or lack of faith enough to care for them too. Jesus taught us to seek justice for those who are different from us. Jesus taught us to hold leaders accountable. Jesus taught us to pay special attention poor people, homeless people, those from different countries, those with disabilities, those with food insecurity, and young people. Jesus taught us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Which means we have to vote for leaders and policies that will positively impact not just us, but members of our community.
We should vote because we need more good in our government. And we should know our leaders from city hall to capitol hill because their decisions impact us at home, work, school, church, in the park, in the street, in the store, and everywhere else in this country.
(RNS) — Millions of Texas voters headed to the polls earlier this month in the state’s primary elections — but the democratic system they participated in is markedly different from the recent past.
After last year’s enactment of sweeping voting restrictions by the Texas Statehouse, the primaries served as a first chance to see how damaging these laws would truly be. It’s too soon to get the full picture, but early signs are ominous: Roughly 30% of absentee ballots cast were rejected by election officials, a massive increase from the 2020 general election when fewer than 1% of ballots met the same fate.
Regrettably, this is likely a mere preview of what’s to come for millions of voters across the nation. In 2021, at least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting. This includes limiting mail balloting, purging voter rolls and reducing poll hours on Election Day. More than 440 bills with provisions that restrict voting access were introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions and more are certain to come.
This isn’t just about who will or will not be able to vote in elections. When combined with the toxic partisanship that is dividing our country — and the fact that large portions of our population and numerous elected leaders still cast doubt on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election — an undeniable truth emerges: Our democracy is in deep peril.
As the first registered religious lobbying organization in the United States, we at the Friends Committee on National Legislation believe civic engagement of all people is vital to the democratic life of our country. This begins with the fundamental right to vote. Quakers and other people of faith understand that voting is not just a basic civic right but a moral requirement. At the center of our faith is the unwavering belief in and commitment to the equality and dignity of every human being. Safeguarding the integrity of the voting process for all people and removing, not raising, barriers to the full participation of disenfranchised people in our electoral process is vital to our democracy and our integrity as a nation.
What happened in Texas and in other states violates our democratic principles and our moral conscience. We know voters of color are most directly impacted by efforts to suppress their voice, both historically and today. These communities are also leading the voting rights movement, often at great personal risk. This is only the latest chapter in a long struggle against disenfranchisement of Black and brown communities in the United States. Our faith calls us to help uproot racism and discrimination wherever it exists, including at the ballot box, and to help transform our nation into the beloved community we envision.
This call to protect elections as the bedrock of democracy is not new. Earlier this year, in anticipation of Martin Luther King Day, advocates launched a large scale effort to pass the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act. This bill would revitalize American democracy by making elections more accessible, secure and transparent, and by ensuring that states do not pass discriminatory laws that restrict access to the ballot box. The effort failed due to a filibuster but has not been abandoned.
Even as Congress rightly focuses on the crisis in Ukraine and the president’s economic agenda, voting rights must remain a top priority for the nation. Currently, efforts to reform the Electoral Count Act of 1887 have real momentum in Congress, with a bipartisan group of senators working to find common ground.
This alone will not end all voter suppression, but it could be a successful vehicle for additional necessary reforms, including amendments to prevent state legislatures from overturning election results, making Election Day a holiday, supporting small-donor financing, instituting gerrymandering reforms or making absentee/vote-by-mail easier.
And despite the failed vote, senators should keep pushing for the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act. History has taught us the advancement of voting rights has never come quickly or easily — and raising the moral conscience of our nation on these issues is an important role of the faith community.
Quakers believe our democracy can live up to its potential only if the government safeguards the integrity of the voting process and ensures full participation for all people. The push for voting rights is a moral imperative and requires the urgent passage of nationwide voting rights legislation. Advocates and people of faith won’t rest until real action is taken. The Senate shouldn’t either.
(Bridget Moix is the fifth general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation in its 80-year history. She brings with her more than 25 years of work in peacebuilding. Moix also leads two other Quaker organizations: Friends Place on Capitol Hill and the FCNL Education Fund. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)
18 “Appoint judges and officials for yourselves from each of your tribes in all the towns the Lord your God is giving you. They must judge the people fairly.
19 You must never twist justice or show partiality. Never accept a bribe, for bribes blind the eyes of the wise and corrupt the decisions of the godly.
20 Let true justice prevail, so you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
In a world where everyone has an opinion of what justice is, and what is wrong seems to be appealing and receiving the most media attention, as believers, it is very encouraging to know God’s pure intention and desire for what true justice is.
In Deuteronomy 16: 18-20 Living Bible Translation there are specific takeaways that are listed to ensure Justice prevails and there is success in the land
Appointing judges and administrative officials to administer justice in every part of the land
Not twisting justice to benefit the rich
Never accepting bribes, because bribes blind the eyes of the wisest and corrupt their decisions
It is important to understand that God cares about what happens to the land we live in. It is a form of great stewardship, when we are able to appoint officials who will govern with wisdom and counsel.
True Justice in God’s eyes, does not involve buying favors, classism or oppression, as we often see in various governments in our current world. He desires for fruitfulness and peace, while those in power, serve in diligence, grace, and integrity for the good of the people.
This week, pray for elected officials. Let us ask God to touch the hearts and minds of those who have the honor to serve at any capacity in our current government. Let us pray for a heart of conviction, wisdom and the desire to do what is right for the sake of the people.
We have a duty as believers to pray and when the opportunity arises, appoint and elect the right officials to rule in our land so that we experience the blessings of peace and prosperity. We cannot give up hope, regardless of what is happening, or ignore the responsibility we have in picking right leaders. God cares for us, His love is unwavering and this year will not be any different. He will guide us to make the right decisions to elect leaders who will move our nation forward. Peace and stability is a great blessing to have, and pursuing pure justice will pave the way for that to happen.
Of late it has been difficult to believe that true and pure Justice can be a possibility in our current world. Thank you for the reminder to trust you, and not take the power of decision for granted. Help me this year to pray for my leaders. All elected officials, in every area of government. Touch their hearts and minds with conviction and the desire to do what is right. Give me the wisdom to do my due diligence in selecting leaders with integrity and not lean on bias or prejudice, but true judgement of character. I desire to have peace and prosperity in the land where I reside. Let that be a blessing I get to experience this year.
The Rev. William Barber, center, flanked by the Rev. Liz Theoharis, left, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, right, speaks during a Poor People’s Campaign demonstration in Washington, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins
WASHINGTON (RNS) — As police escorted a demonstrator in a wheelchair away from the chanting throng descending on the Capitol Monday (Aug. 2), fellow protesters turned to watch the person go. The group paused for a moment, then altered their call.
They screamed in unison: “Thank you! We love you!”
The lone protester nodded, fist raised. The crowd erupted in applause.
It was a moment that played out again and again over the course of the afternoon. According to Capitol police, more than 200 faith-led demonstrators were arrested while praying, singing and protesting in the street, hoping to draw attention to voting rights and a slate of other issues participants argued impact the poor and low-wage workers.
The sprawling demonstration was organized by the Poor People’s Campaign, an advocacy group led by the Rev. William Barber II and the Rev. Liz Theoharis that tends to support left-leaning policies. Monday’s action on the Hill constituted one of the largest mass-arrest nonviolent protests at the Capitol in recent memory and attracted an array of prominent voices, including civil rights icon the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Luci Baines Johnson, the daughter of late President Lyndon B. Johnson.
At a rally near the Capitol immediately before the march, leaders laid out what they insisted were interconnected issues driving their protest, which centered on voting rights, immigration reform, a $15 an hour federal minimum wage and eliminating the Senate filibuster that has stymied passage of related federal legislation.
“Filibuster is a sin!” Barber declared. “Making essential workers work during a pandemic — and risk their lives to save this country — and then not give them a living wage is sin.”
The event also featured music. Singers led the crowd in belting: “Somebody’s hurting my brother, and it’s gone on far too long. And we won’t be silent anymore!” The singers changed the lyrics as the song progressed, inserting lines such as “Somebody’s stealing our wages!” and “Somebody’s blocking our voting rights!”
The song echoes the sweeping, evolving agenda articulated by a variety of faith leaders across the country in recent months, particularly those who operate within religious communities of color.
The Poor People’s Campaign took a leading role in propelling that agenda this summer in the wake of Republican-led efforts to pass state-level elections bills many activists decry as restrictive. Indeed, Monday’s march follows what organizers called a “season” of similar demonstrations organized by the PPC over the past two months in Washington, Arizona and most recently Texas, where activists mimicked the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The group walked 27 miles from Georgetown to Austin, Texas, in late July to oppose voting restrictions.
Texas pastor the Rev. Frederick Haynes III, who joined the Texas march and has vigorously opposed state elections bills, was among the speakers at the Washington rally.
Activists are arrested during a Poor People’s Campaign demonstration in Washington, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins
“President Biden, Democrats and Republicans, the culture will put it like this: If you come for us and we didn’t send for you, you don’t want this smoke,” said the Progressive National Baptist, whose denominational convention is happening this week. “You don’t want this smoke because we are fighting for the soul of this nation.”
The activists’ efforts have hit roadblocks with some Democrats at the national level, particularly Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona. Both opposed efforts to pass minimum wage increases and eliminate the filibuster this year — in Manchin’s case, despite a meeting with Barber and low-wage workers. The Poor People’s Campaign has since targeted bothlawmakers with protests.
Barber was quick to harangue members of both parties during the rally, accusing some Democrats of heaping praise on late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis but failing to support his vision for voting rights.
“Some Democrats told us: ‘If y’all organize, don’t connect wages to voting rights,'” Barber said. “I’m too old to play that.”
He added: “The same people suppressing the votes suppress your wages, won’t fix your utility grids, suppress your health care, cut public education, block living wages — you’ve got to make the connection.”
Barber also offered his own adaptation of the Scripture passage from Isaiah 10:1-3:
“Woe unto you hypocrites who pay attention to all of Robert’s Rules (of order), all the made up rules of the Senate and the House, but you filibuster justice. And filibuster mercy. And you filibuster faithfully.”
Barber was briefly joined at the rally by Sen. Raphael Warnock, himself a prominent Georgia pastor. However, Barber explained Warnock would not speak because the campaign generally does not let politicians address their protests. Warnock is a champion of the For the People Act, a federal voting rights legislation Barber and others praised but Manchin opposed.
The Rev. Rev. Liz Theoharis, center left, and the Rev. William Barber lead a Poor People’s Campaign demonstration march in Washington, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins
Among the clergy milling about the crowd — which also included many red-shirted members of the labor union Unite Here! — were the Rev. Patrick Messer, a United Church of Christ pastor who just left a church in Nebraska, and the Rev. Deana Oliva, a Unitarian Universalist minister from Kentucky.
Asked what spurred them to be part of the protest, Oliva was aghast at the thought of not participating — “Where else would we be?” — and Messer pointed to Jesus.
“I’m here because in Jesus’ first sermon he said the spirit is upon me to bring good news to the poor, and to bring deliverance to the captive,” Messer said. “We’re here to bring a $15 minimum wage to all workers, restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and pass all the provisions of the For the People Act and end the filibuster.”
The daughter of President Lyndon B. Johnson — who signed the Voting Rights Act into law — also addressed the crowd at the event. Luci Baines Johnson noted she could not speak for her father, but insisted he would have wanted her to be with activists “in the fight for social justice and voting rights.” After voicing support for the For the People Act and the John Lewis Act, another voting rights bill, she invoked Scripture while calling for bipartisanship.
“In the 1960s, Democrats and Republicans stood up together for social justice,” she said. “It was the right thing then, and it’s the right thing now. Now more than ever before, we need to — in the words of Isaiah — come and reason together to get a more just America for everybody.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson also addressed the crowd, bemoaning what he called a nation “in crisis” and voicing a willingness to go to jail for the cause.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, center, speaks during a Poor People’s Campaign demonstration in Washington, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins
He led the group in a call-and-response chant: “I am! Somebody! I may be poor! But I am! Somebody! I may be unemployed! But I am! Somebody! I may not have health care! But I am! Somebody! Respect me! Protect me! Elect me! I am! God’s child!”
Others who delivered either speeches or prayers at the event included prominent Muslim American activist Linda Sarsour, National Council of Churches President Jim Winkler, Simple Way founder Shane Claiborne, activist and former chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe Wendsler Nosie and several low-wage workers or people impacted by poverty.
After the speeches, the activists massed into a column and marched toward the Capitol, with clergy walking alongside low-wage workers and those impacted by poverty. Tensions briefly flared with police when they insisted demonstrators stay on the sidewalk for one stretch of their march. Protesters initially refused, walking past police before a wave of new officers arrived and corralled the group off the street.
Demonstrators took to the street a short time later after processing past the Supreme Court toward the Hart Senate building. One column of protesters stayed on the sidewalk, but a separate group — including Barber, Theoharis, Jackson and what appeared to be Messer and Oliva — positioned themselves in the middle of the road, refusing to move. Some briefly requested entry to the Hart building at Barber’s urging, but police rebuffed them, and they returned to the street.
As demonstrators sang and chanted (“What do we want? Voting rights! When do we want them? Now!”), officers began arresting those in the road one by one, carefully leading them away. Cheers rose up as Theoharis, Barber and Jackson were arrested, and they were followed by hundreds more: clergy of multiple faiths, low-wage workers, young activists and elderly people in walkers or wheelchairs were all among those arrested.
When each one arrived at the area where other arrestees were waiting to be processed, shouts and applause rang out.
It remains to be seen how lawmakers will react to the growing protest movement. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio was spotted walking quickly past the protest. When demonstrators shouted for the end of the filibuster, he quickly replied, “I agree with you,” a reference to his public willingness to end the filibuster if Republicans continue to use it to block liberal legislation.
The mixture of religious and labor demonstrators appeared to be clear in their cause on Monday and dedicated to convincing Congress to support it. They sang many songs, but one favorite seemed to be aimed directly at lawmakers: It simply asked, over and over, “Which side are you on?”
This article originally appeared on ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom.
New From ProPublica
Millions of Mail-In Votes Have Already Been Cast in Battleground States. Track Their Progress Here.
ProPublica and The Guardian are tracking mail-in votes in battleground states — how many have been requested, how many have been returned and how many have been rejected. Read the story.
Pennsylvania’s Rejection of 372,000 Ballot Applications Bewilders Voters and Strains Election Staff
Most rejected applications were deemed duplicates because voters had unwittingly checked a request box during the primary. The administrative nightmare highlights the difficulty of ramping up mail-in voting on the fly. Read the story.
Stories From Electionland Partners
Washington Post: Long lines mark the first day of early voting in Georgia as voters flock to the polls.
News & Observer: Black voters more likely to be left in limbo by NC absentee ballot dispute.
Postindustrial: Some in PA remain confused over mail-in election process.
WFSU: Sealed Absentee Ballot Return Envelopes Spark Concern From Leon County Voters.
WESA: Postcards On Voting Cause Confusion Among Some Pennsylvanians.
WESA: Your Questions On Pennsylvania Voter Registration, Mail-In Ballots, And Voting In Person, Answered.
Washington Post: Early voting begins in Texas with high turnout, despite new legal developments on voting access.
NJ Spotlight News: Missing ballots, sealed envelopes — NJ’s first mail-in election sees glitches.
CBS2 Chicago: Cook County Acknowledges Backlog As Many Voters Get Message That System Can’t Verify Their Registration.
KJRH: Tulsa County voter gets replacement ballot after he thinks first one goes missing.
News & Observer: Worried that your mail-in ballot won’t count? Here’s what you need to know.
Vote by Mail News
California’s Republican Party admitted to placing unofficial ballot drop boxes at undisclosed locations around the state after reports emerged in Fresno, Los Angeles, and Orange counties. A state party spokesman claimed the boxes were legal under the state’s “ballot harvesting” law, which allows third parties to help take ballots to the polls. But in a cease-and-desist letter, California’s attorney general said the drop boxes were missing crucial security features and could leave the party vulnerable to charges of tampering. (CBS Sacramento)
Nearly half of the North Carolina ballots that have been flagged for errors and need to be “cured” belong to Black voters. But the cure process has been suspended as a legal battle over state voting law between Democrats and Republicans makes its way through the courts. (Washington Post)
Voters in seven states — including Virginia, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania — had already returned more absentee ballots as of this week than the states saw by the end of the 2016 election. (Wall Street Journal)
More than 80 million absentee ballots had already been requested nationwide as of October 14, but some critical states — including Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — won’t allow election workers to begin processing them all until Election Day, which could lead to delays in getting results. (New York Times)
Starting Monday, Denver voters could watch election workers process ballots live on a video stream at denvervotes.org. (Associated Press)
Across Pennsylvania, voters are experiencing a deluge of election-related mail and ballot applications sent by third-party groups. Some forms have been pre-filled with inaccurate information, prompting confused calls to already busy election offices. (WITF)
At a conservative conference in D.C. in August, speakers pushed back on mail-in voting, promoted ballot harvesting and worried about Democrats stealing the election. (The Washington Post)
Voting Challenges This Week
A federal judge extended Virginia’s voter registration deadline to Thursday, after online voter systems crashed on what was supposed to be the final day of registration. The Tuesday outage was caused by a severed fiber optic line, which crews accidentally cut while doing utility work. (WDBJ, Washington Post)
Nearly 29,000 people in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, may have received the wrong ballot as the result of a printing error by an outside vendor. Voters’ names were matched to the wrong municipalities and voting districts, county officials said. New ballots will be issued the week of October 19. (WESA)
New Jersey voters are having trouble with the state’s online system for tracking their absentee ballots. Although the platform will technically accept three different identification numbers to help track down ballots, it won’t show a result unless users put in the exact ID they used to register to vote. (WNYC)
Two state lawmakers are pushing for a refund from the printing company that accidentally sent thousands of Brooklyn voters the wrong ballot return envelopes. New York City’s Board of Elections had awarded Phoenix Printing a no-bid, $4.6 million contract to print absentee ballots, which one assemblywoman slammed as a “sweetheart deal.” (The City)
About 1,000 voters in Delaware County, Ohio, received two absentee ballots in the mail due to a “computer glitch,” according to election officials. Voters are being contacted by phone and by mail to make sure they only use one ballot. (ABC 6)
More than 1,300 Charleston voters received incorrect absentee ballots; officials say new ballots will arrive within days. (The State)
The Latest on Poll Security
A private security firm is recruiting former Special Operations soldiers to guard polling places and businesses in Minnesota during the election, despite the objections of state and local officials. (The Washington Post)
Tens of thousands of volunteers have signed up for a GOP polling watching effort. Per Politico, poll watchers will “monitor everything from voting machines to the processing of ballots to checking voter identification,” but are not allowed to interact directly with voters. (Politico)
Election officials in central Florida are training for possible disruptions, or even violence, on Election Day. (Orlando Sentinel)
Republican lawmakers are pushing back on a North Carolina State Board of Elections memo that directed local officials not to station uniformed law enforcement officers at polling places. (The News & Observer)
Misinformation on Voting
New research shows that social media influencers are helping amplify misinformation on voting. (AP)
Officials in Alabama are investigating complaints of people going door-to-door, asking voters to sign blank absentee ballot applications and provide personal information. (Dothan Eagle)
Scammers are mimicking a ballot-tracking text message service. (NBC San Diego)
USPS officials say a surge of packages from Amazon’s annual Prime Day won’t interfere with delivering ballots. (CNN)
Experts are more worried about disinformation, not coronavirus or cybersecurity, derailing the election. (Roll Call)