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United Methodist Churches Serve as Polling Places


November 19, 2020

Rev. Rick Lasley works at the polling place that is located at Pomme de Terre UMC.
When Rev. Rick Lasley moved to his new appointment this summer at Pomme de Terre, one of the things on his to-do list was registering to vote. When he went in to register, he was asked about his party affiliation. When he told them, they said he was just who they needed to balance out their bi-partisan poll worker team. Not only was he inclined to the needed party, the polling place was a short walk from his house and also happened to be at the church he was serving as pastor. He said yes.
 
Lasley was at the church at 5 a.m. on election day to open up. His poll working partners had been staffing the polling station at his church for years, so they knew the drill regarding on how the day would go. They were busy when they first opened, had a few lulls during the day and then busy again after people got off work. Lasley was impressed with the operation and attention to detail.
 
“It was really slick,” he said. Having two people there from each party meant that there were always opposing eyes on the process to keep the system in check. “We had to account for every piece of paper. No one was ever alone with the ballots after we took them out of the machine, even though they had already been counted by the scanner.”
 
A lot of the members of Pomme de Terre vote in a different precinct, but Lasley enjoyed the opportunity to get to meet a lot of his neighbors whom he hadn’t met yet. Being new to the area in a time of social distancing has been a struggle.
 
“I haven’t met three-fourths of our congregation in person yet,” he said. Currently, a small group is watching worship on a large television in the
fellowship hall. Lasley has been doing a lot of telephone work and Zoom calls but is longing for the day when the congregation can safely gather together.
 
At least during voting, Lasley got to see several hundred people from his surrounding community come into the church, even if it wasn’t for worship. For safety precautions he wore a mask and worked behind a plexiglass screen, but did have to handle every voter’s identification.
 
“It was a lot of hand washing and hand sanitizer,” Lasley said of his day. The voting was orderly and he enjoyed the experience, but he was attuned to the danger. “People had a hard time remembering the need to distance.”
 
Like Pomme de Terre, Pathways United Methodist Church in Springfield has served as a polling place for many years. The church thought this year it was particularly important for churches to step up, due to concerns about introducing the coronavirus into schools.
 
“(Serving as a polling place) helps the schools with their safety plan,” said Rev. Rhonda Galbraith. “It also conveys the message that we are a part of our neighborhood and support the community at large.”
 
Jefferson Avenue in Moberly offers their church building in the same spirit, noting that their spacious fellowship hall with street-level entry and ample parking made them well suited for the task. It also helps confirm the church’s dedication to reaching out to assist its community in engaging with the electoral process.
 
“The church wants to reach out to our community and has a real desire and commitment for the form of leadership that leads our community, state and nation,” said Rev. James Crooks.
 
This year, Jefferson Avenue member Charlie Martin set up the voting area following worship on Sunday to prepare for the voting equipment that was being delivered early Monday morning. Following the delivery, a sanitizing crew cleaned the area and then closed the space to allow no access until the poll workers arrived Tuesday morning. All church activities were rescheduled, including the Methodist Men who meet on the first Monday of the month.
 
Central United Methodist Church in Kansas City canceled their preschool on election day. The church is the oldest Protestant church in Kansas City and has served as a polling place for years. The sanctuary was open during voting for people who wanted to use it for socially distanced, silent prayers.
 
“It’s been a blessedly boring day at Central as a polling place,” Rev. Dr. Sally Haynes reported. “An early morning line around our building has
become a steady trickle, even during the lunch hour.”
Smithville United Methodist Church became a polling place in 2020. This was their first presidential election.
 
“We were asked by Clay Co. Election board to become a third polling place in Smithville for the purpose of reducing crowd size and waiting at the other locations,” said Rev. Rebecca Mulford. 
 
Although the church doesn’t usually serve as a polling place, they do have a tradition of hosting an election day chili/soup festival. That tradition persevered this year, although it was modified to drive through/to-go orders only. The sanctuary was used for voting so there would be plenty of room for distancing.
 
From the turnout this year, it appears to be a good decision Smithville agreed to function as a third polling location.
 
They had approximately 1,500 people come through their doors. The line stretched around the building until 5 p.m., after which it finally began to slow down. Poll workers had access to as much chili and soup as they wanted. By the end of the day, the church was sold out of soup and nearly sold out of chili.
 
“Our parking lot has never seen so many cars,” Mulford said. “It was a delightful, busy day.”