Election Day is Tuesday and many of us still travel to a polling place to cast our ballots in person. In many communities the polling place is located inside a church. It's not illegal to have voting in a church but the location still needs to meet state election laws. What should you look for and what should you do to make sure a church follows the rules?
The move to place polling locations in churches has happened over the past twenty years or so and is related to having a location that is handicap accessible and removing potential issues with strange adults going to a school building to vote.
In Hancock county, for example, 99% of current voting locations are churches.
How does Ohio law deal with a voting location:
(A) During an election and the counting of the ballots, no person shall do any of the following:
(1) Loiter, congregate, or engage in any kind of election campaigning within the area between the polling place and the small flags of the United States placed on the thoroughfares and walkways leading to the polling place, and if the line of electors waiting to vote extends beyond those small flags, within ten feet of any elector in that line;
(2) In any manner hinder or delay an elector in reaching or leaving the place fixed for casting the elector's ballot;
(3) Give, tender, or exhibit any ballot or ticket to any person other than the elector's own ballot to the precinct election officials within the area between the polling place and the small flags of the United States placed on the thoroughfares and walkways leading to the polling place, and if the line of electors waiting to vote extends beyond those small flags, within ten feet of any elector in that line;
(4) Exhibit any ticket or ballot which the elector intends to cast;
(5) Solicit or in any manner attempt to influence any elector in casting the elector's vote.
(1) Except as otherwise provided in division (B)(2) of this section and division (C) of section 3503.23 of the Revised Code, no person who is not an election official, employee, observer, or police officer shall be allowed to enter the polling place during the election, except for the purpose of voting or assisting another person to vote as provided in section 3505.24 of the Revised Code.
(2) Notwithstanding any provision of this section to the contrary, a journalist shall be allowed reasonable access to a polling place during an election. As used in this division, "journalist" has the same meaning as in division (B)(2) of section 2923.129 of the Revised Code.
(C) No more electors shall be allowed to approach the voting shelves at any time than there are voting shelves provided.
(D) The precinct election officials and the police officer shall strictly enforce the observance of this section.
Ohio law creates a buffer zone around the polling place where you can't loiter, hinder voting, or try to influence a vote.
That means if the polling place is a church, the room where people are voting has to be free of posters or signs about issues that are part of an election - like supporting a particular candidate. Some churches take a side on an issue - such as abortion, for example - so any material about the issue needs to be removed or covered up during voting hours as well.
Also members of the church can't be in the polling place unless they are voting or assisting someone to vote so they can't hand out flyers to their next service, ask you to pray, or try to influence your vote on an issue under consideration.
If you believe a polling place buffer zone has been violated let a poll worker know right away. It normally would be good to take a picture of the offending material but Ohio prohibits camera use inside the polling place. As an alternative sketch out the scene as soon as you can and write a detailed narrative of what happened and who you informed of the potential violation. You should also inform your local Board of Elections.
The Secular Coalition for Ohio would also like to know if you encounter any church and state issues while voting at a church.
Having polling places in a church is walking a fine church and state line with more a chance of an election law violation so they need to be scrutinized more closely.