Choosing Polling Places
February 3, 2004 5:40 AM   Subscribe

How do precincts determine where their polling places are going to be located? [more inside]

I went and voted in my state's presidential primary this morning. My polling place is a church and I had to walk through the sanctuary to get to the room where I voted. They did have an outside entrance to the room but it was poorly marked and when I asked someone in the lobby where I went to vote, he directed me to the sanctuary, where I wandered about until someone asked me if they could help me.

I've always voted at schools before (in 3 different states), and it just seems strange to me that my polling place should be a church instead of a school in my precinct. So I'm wondering how precincty typically go about choosing polling places.
posted by eilatan to Law & Government (10 answers total)
 
I've voted in churches, public schools, private schools, a bank... I think that it's mostly determined by who has space available at a place that's relatively easy to identify (i.e. St. Mark's Church, Public Library, etc.)
posted by Coffeemate at 6:50 AM on February 3, 2004


I've only voted in public schools before, but this year i'm in a church (a gay church too--MCC!) This says that each county commission determines the polling places for that county (i think it must be true for the whole country)
posted by amberglow at 8:42 AM on February 3, 2004


I remember back in the 1980s there were some lawsuits (in Wisconsin, I think) where people challenged the practice of using churches as polling places. Those suits were, as far as I'm aware, unsuccessful.

While there must be some limits on where they can put a polling place--nothing inherently dangerous, and nothing that is closed to the general public--I think the idea is that the more polling places (and smaller precints) you have, the more likely people are to vote. If that means accepting a church's generous offer of space, so be it.
posted by profwhat at 9:38 AM on February 3, 2004


Applicable Minnesota statutes prohibit locating a polling place "in any place where intoxicating liquors or nonintoxicating malt beverages are served or in any adjoining room", among other things.
posted by gimonca at 12:02 PM on February 3, 2004


I guess one thing I'm worried about, with regards to this specific church, is that they're going to attempt to unduly influence people's votes come November. They're terrifyingly fundamentalist (there were between 15 and 20 people speaking in tongues at 7 am in the sanctuary) and put on a big Christmas and Easter display every year--to the point where they've erected a billboard on the property to suck people into the vortex that is Victory Christian Fellowship.

Since it *is* private property, I can't imagine that they'll be real cool with, say, signs and campaigners hanging out however-many-feet-you-have-to-be from the entrance to the polling area on the day of the general election. If it were a school, it would be public property, so that wouldn't come into play as much--they would be able to allow all signs/campaigners or none.

I'm also disturbed that, when I specifically asked an employee of the church where I needed to go to vote, instead of telling me to head back outside and go around to the other side, he directed me into the sanctuary. When a church member asked him where I needed to go, he told him what room number I needed to go to. I can't even begin to explain how uncomfortable I was exercising my civic duty in a place which visibly endorses any number of political and religious positions I disagree with.

I guess I just sort of assume that polling places should be as politically neutral as possible. I would feel the same if the polling place were located at a gay bar (impossible, I know, but I'm trying to use an example that would make a conservative fundamentalist Christian uncomfortable in the same way that their space made me uncomfortable).
posted by eilatan at 3:22 PM on February 3, 2004


I can't imagine that they'll be real cool with, say, signs and campaigners hanging out however-many-feet-you-have-to-be from the entrance to the polling area on the day of the general election.

The exact details vary from locality to locality, but in most places that's law, so it shouldn't matter much how "cool" they are with it. (If they ignore the law though, I don't know what legal recourse you have, if any.)

However, if they aren't trying to illegally influence your vote, and they aren't actively trying to proselytize you, I don't see that you have much grounds for complaint. If I'm a libertarian, do I have a legitimate complaint that I'm forced to go to a public school to vote, when I oppose all government funding of education?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:41 PM on February 3, 2004


I can't imagine that they'll be real cool with, say, signs and campaigners hanging out however-many-feet-you-have-to-be from the entrance to the polling area on the day of the general election.

Urgh, sorry, upon re-reading I realized I misinterpreted you. I had thought you were worried about the church allowing campaigners less-than-x feet from the entrance, in violation of the law. Now I see you're concerned about the church not allowing campaigners (or, not allowing campaigners for certain candidates) within x-or-more feet of the entrance, but on their private property. That's entirely legitimate, and I don't see much cause for concern there. If any significant number of voters are so clueless that they just vote for whoever's name they saw most recently, then I think the problems with democracy are far more fundamental, far deeper than anything that could be rectified by making sure all candidates have equal access to voters as they walk past on their way into the voting booth.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:48 PM on February 3, 2004


I'm a poll judge, and the polling place I work at is in a church (specifically, their fellowship hall.) It's the job of the poll workers to ensure that the polling place is marked and that there is sufficient signage directing voters to where they need to be. If there is any sort of problem or concern, call the Board of Elections. It's their job to take care of it. In fact, in our county the Board employees check up on all of us-up to and including taking measurements to make sure everything is handicapped accessible. Don't expect the church folk to know squat about any of it, as they will have nothing to do with the setup, etc.

Don't worry about the church regarding election-day campaigners. If they allow voting on their property to begin with, they should be cool with it whether or not they agree with the particular candidate. Trust me, they will be too busy praying for God to bless all you voters. ( A like-minded poll worker and I do precisely that privately before the polls open, but partially out of selfish motives-we want the 15-hour work day to go smooth ;-) )



Again, if there is ANY problem regarding a pollsite, call the Board of Elections.
posted by konolia at 4:50 PM on February 3, 2004


I guess I just sort of assume that polling places should be as politically neutral as possible.

Churches are convenient because they're easy to spot, usually have good parking, have the room, and aren't likely to be in use during the day on a Tuesday (unlike a public school). Ditto things like local service clubs, at least some of which hold positions that lots of people might disagree with.

If you're worried that they're going to proselytize voters or try to influence voter decisions, monitor them and raise holy hell if they do, or contact representative of both local major parties and ask them to, or call the local ACLU and ask them to.

If you're uncomfortable being there, give it back to 'em. Show up in a t-shirt advertising paganism or atheism, or in a burka, or remind people in line that God is a lie, or whatever. Usually the best response to speech (or expression) is more of it.

I would feel the same if the polling place were located at a gay bar (impossible, I know, but I'm trying to use an example that would make a conservative fundamentalist Christian uncomfortable in the same way that their space made me uncomfortable).

How 'bout one o' them filthy evolution-teachin' public schools that ain't got a single picture of the Lord in 'em and teach our kids nothin' but to curse, have carnal fornication, and disobey their parents?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:58 PM on February 3, 2004


Line? What line? Both times I've voted here in Delaware there's been no line. And they do this WEIRD thing where they announce in a loud voice as you go into the voting booth, "So-and-so is now voting" and as you leave, "So-and-so has just voted." Makes me feel all conspicuous.

This was the first time I voted at this particular polling place, so all I knew about how to get there was the info on my voter registration card. I think I'll call the Board of Elections in a few days (after they count the 15,000 votes that were cast today, give or take a few) and let them know that the signage could have been better than it was.
posted by eilatan at 6:20 PM on February 3, 2004


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