Why don't churches lose their tax exempt status when used as polling places during elections?
September 27, 2006 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Why don't churches lose their tax exempt status when used as polling places during elections?
posted by Mr_Zero to Law & Government (13 answers total)
For the same reason that schools and government offices don't?
posted by grouse at 11:28 AM on September 27, 2006

Because they're not advocating. I belong to a 501c3 that is always worried about their status because of what is said on their mailing lists. We can say "X and Y are running for president" but we can't say "vote for X" Polling places are almost the definition of neutral, so it doesn't compromise tax exempt status to have them in your exempt building.
posted by jessamyn at 11:30 AM on September 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: For the same reason that schools and government offices don't?

Schools and government offices are not 501c3 eligible are they? I don't see how those are the same?
posted by Mr_Zero at 11:41 AM on September 27, 2006

Churches in general are designed to hold an appreciable number of people according to fire code, they don't conduct profitable business that would be hurt by their space being used for a day, and they have historically been relatively safe community gathering centers. As well, in many parts of the nation, there is a church within reasonable walking distance of nearly any part of town.

In short, if you want a place to hold a large gathering of people with the most advantages and least drawbacks to successful attendance, churches are already designed for that purpose and are often eager to accept this duty if for no other reason than exposure to potential converts.

If you don't care for it, absentee voting is easier than ever. It's not a perfect solution, but since when have we had any of those?
posted by Saydur at 11:48 AM on September 27, 2006

Well, why would you expect them to?
posted by boo_radley at 11:51 AM on September 27, 2006

Why should they? They're not campaigning for or against any candidate or issue, they're just providing a place for voting to occur. It's hard to get less partisan than providing a polling place.
posted by jlkr at 12:37 PM on September 27, 2006

In fact, the churches are providing a public service by having election polling stations on their premesis. It's exactly this sort of use that justifies their tax-exempt status at all.
posted by raedyn at 12:59 PM on September 27, 2006

um, i'm pretty sure churches, and other places get paid to be polling places. they're often a good choice for a variety of reasons, like having the space, low non election activity, plenty of parking and whatnot.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 1:21 PM on September 27, 2006

Mod note: a few comments removed. please take separation of church and state discussion that isn't about polling places to metatalk
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:39 PM on September 27, 2006

As a concise answer: by volunteering to be a polling place, the church is in not endorsing any particular candidate.
posted by fogster at 1:39 PM on September 27, 2006

Indeed, in most areas, it is illegal for any campaigning/advocating for specific candidates to occur within and around polling places during the election. Churches and other locations used as polling places aren't supporting anything other than the electoral process as a whole.

When people talk of churches and other groups losing 501c3 status, what they mean is that the group is in danger of losing its tax exempt status because the group was functioning to support specific candidates or issues in an election. Churches are free to encourage people to vote, they aren't free to use their tax-free status to tell people who to vote for.
posted by zachlipton at 6:35 PM on September 27, 2006

In my previous appointment, I was the United Methodist pastor of three churches in rural Virginia, and my smallest church was a polling station.

We became a polling station when the county decided to close the nearly 100 year old elementary school in our voting district. We had a nearly new fellowship hall that was the only handicapped accessible building in the voting district, and the county approached us.

Some people may have not liked having to go to a church, but the alternative would have been excluding the disabled from voting.

When I first arrived as pastor, we had a few problems with the local board of elections. Basically, candidates were forgetting to come and get all of their adverts out of our parking lot and were nailing their signs to our beautiful, old trees. The county was also forgetting to pay us.

We drew up a simple covenant agreement, and never had another problem. They paid us $100 per election to use the building all day, which is relatively cheap when you think about what it costs to rent a church for say, a wedding. They cleaned up and moved the tables/chairs as they were before.

Our people (obviously) could not (nor would want to) show mess with the election, and were not allowed to anyway. We saw the whole thing as God giving us a nice building to share with the community, and as Christians as well as citizens, we were happy to oblige.
posted by 4ster at 7:50 PM on September 27, 2006

First time I lived where the polls were in a church it was very weird to me. I never thought of all the good reasons mentioned here for doing it that way.

I'm not anti-religion. I just am very touchy about that lovely barrier between government (who uses force) and religion.

Thanks for the answers from someone who didn't ask the question :-)
posted by Goofyy at 12:47 AM on September 28, 2006

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