Why do you suppose we have the secret ballot?
The answer is something most of us understand instinctively. In the one vital moment when a citizen gets to express his/her own individual political opinion, no one – not mom and dad, not your wife or husband, not your boss, not the local sheriff, not stern-faced community or union leaders, not your well-meaning neighbor – gets to loom over your shoulder and help you vote “right.”
The principle is enshrined in election law all over the world. Here in the U.S., various measures prevent overt campaigning within a certain distance – as much as 300 feet in some places, the length of a football field – of the polling place. Not only can you not stand outside the door and hector people entering, in many places you can’t even wear your own quiet campaign buttons as you go in to vote.
It’s really an issue of freedom, isn’t it? On the theory that every woman and man has the right to wrestle with their own political conscience and vote their heartfelt private values, we protect from outside influence those final moments prior to voting.
Except when we don’t.
I have a postcard on my desk telling me there’s a county primary election on September 13. Among other details, the card reminds me of where I vote. In a few days I will be required, once again, to enter the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in order to cast my ballot.
Last November when I was there, even I, unbeliever that I am, found myself emotionally affected. In my case, the goddiness projected from the billboard-like walls at every hapless voter – “MESSIAH, LAMB OF GOD, TEACHER, SON OF MAN, REDEEMER, ALPHA, OMEGA, PROPHET, EVERLASTING FATHER” – plus the “Saved By Grace / Its Awesome” (sic) roadside reader board – served to irritate me. But I have no doubt that others felt something distinctly more moving.
And feeling, the experiencing of emotions, is definitely the issue.
I couldn’t guess how it might play out in any individual voter, but I can safely predict that with certain ballot measures, here and elsewhere, what we feel when we enter a church WILL have a powerful effect on how large numbers of us mark our ballots.
Should women have the private right to determine their own adult reproductive choices, or should those baby-killing sluts be prevented by law from alternately getting knocked up and then disposing of millions of precious unblemished souls in bloody abortion clinic trash cans? Should Adam and Steve be allowed to marry whomever they please, or should those disgusting beasts be prevented from prancing around in public making a mockery of God-given American family values? Should our innocent schoolchildren be taught the beautiful truth of the talking snake in the Garden of Eden, or the ungodly fiction that we all descended from fornicating monkeys?
One thing’s for sure: If you believe, in any measure at all, that the Almighty Creator of the Universe is looking over your shoulder as you make such decisions, it HAS TO affect your vote.
And I think we all know it.
Because how, really, do we make decisions? Two ways: emotionally and rationally. Reason and passion go hand in hand, generally speaking, in decision making. We like to think that reason informs each daily decision, but at the same time we know that our feeling selves will have to live with the results.
Some of us depend most heavily on passion as the basis of decision making. Given a choice of the emotional “Oh my gosh, I want this piece of chocolate cake!” and the rational “I probably shouldn’t eat that right now; I’m already carrying 35 extra pounds,” the presence of large numbers of overweights among us testify that Heart frequently wins out over Head.
And what is faith but passion? Anybody who grew up in the Deep South as I did, and got to see the shouting and arm-waving, the screaming and weeping – and yes, occasionally, what appeared to be transcendent joy – that was a part of every Sunday service, really understands that religion is about emotion.
Just walking into a church affects some of us extremely deeply.
In the final analysis, either church sways you, your opinions, feelings, actions – and your vote – or it doesn’t.
Those pro-faith people who would say that standing in the same room with an exquisite marble representation of the Blessed Virgin Mary has absolutely no influence on voter choices are in the novel position of arguing that church has a powerful effect on people … every day except that certain Tuesday in November.
In truth, I think one real reason churches volunteer to be polling places is that they expect it will have an effect on voters passing through those saintly portals. Whether the question is between a sinful “liberal” candidate and an anointed godly one, a ballot measure offering rights to gays or women, or larger issues of separation of church and state, the churchly community seeks an extra edge over the secular one.
And I think the practice is out of line and should be stopped.
Surely each voting district has value-neutral places – such as, in my case, a YMCA only a mile away from Good Shepherd Lutheran, or a public school even closer, plus a nearby public library and town hall – where citizens of all faith traditions, and no faith at all, can be free of the intrusively goddy influences looming over us as we enter the voting booth.
Hmm. On the other hand, since I’m REQUIRED to go to this church to vote … I wonder what would happen if I showed up in this: