Episcopal Church steps up voter engagement efforts as Election Day approaches

By David Paulsen
Posted Oct 28, 2022

[Episcopal News Service] Early and absentee voting is underway across the United States, and in the run-up to Election Day on Nov. 8, The Episcopal Church is encouraging nonpartisan engagement in the electoral process in a variety of ways and at all levels, from volunteering with local voter registration efforts to participating in a churchwide call to prayer on election night.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris will be among the featured guests in the Nov. 8 prayer event, which will be livestreamed from 8 p.m. to midnight Eastern on the church’s Facebook page. The event is hosted by the church’s Washington, D.C.-based Office of Government Relations.

“We welcome everyone as we reflect on this key process of our common life and on the importance of fair elections for our democracy,” Rebecca Linder Blachly, director of the Office of Government Relations, said in a recent news release announcing the event. “We hope many voters will join us that day to pray for our leaders, neighbors, and country.”

The Office of Government Relations also urges Episcopalians to “Vote Faithfully” with the help of resources outlined it its election engagement toolkit, which has been updated for these midterm elections. 

This isn’t a presidential election year, but voters in the United States will be electing or reelecting members of Congress. Many states also have U.S. Senate races and gubernatorial elections on the ballot, along with other state and local elections. Episcopalians can consult the Episcopal toolkit for help in registering to vote, becoming a poll worker, mobilizing their communities to participate and advocating for reforms that have been backed by resolutions of The Episcopal Church’s General Convention.

The toolkit specifically highlights a resolution passed by General Convention in 2012 that notes, “the United States has been a vigorous human rights advocate for many years, opposing arbitrary restrictions on the right to vote and insisting on fairly conducted elections for legislative representatives.”

More recent General Convention resolutions have opposed voter suppression efforts and promoted expansion of voter eligibility, as outlined in this resolution passed in July. Another resolution from this year backed changes to the Electoral Count Act of 1887 intended to prevent threats to democracy like the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, seeking to block the certification of Joe Biden’s election as president. 

The Office of Government Relations also launched a new program last year called Episcopal Activators, in which volunteers help voters in their community navigate the processes for registering to vote and casting ballots, especially in states with new voting restrictions. 

“Following the dictates of your conscience, using your discernment as the spirit guides you, each one of us must cast our vote in participation in the democratic process,” Curry said in a video released at the launch of Episcopal Activators. “Voter registration is to encourage everyone to register to vote who is able to do so, and then for them to follow the dictates of their conscience as their conscience will guide them.

“This is how we can participate in the democratic process and make a difference for our country and, indeed, for the world.”

The Office of Government Relations now has 57 people signed up as Episcopal Activators, including Sally Carlson-Bancroft of Nashville, Tennessee. She has been active in voter engagement efforts through her work with the Diocese of Tennessee’s Beloved Community Commission, which has partnered with ecumenical and interreligious organizations to encourage citizens to vote.

“I think the main reason I’ve gotten involved here in Tennessee is that voter turnout is so pathetic,” Carlson-Bancroft told Episcopal News Service. “We can’t have a democracy where few people are participating.”

Willis Moore, a history professor at Chaminade University in Honolulu, Hawaii, also volunteers as an Episcopal Activator and is scheduled to speak during The Episcopal Church’s livestreamed prayer event on Nov. 8. He told ENS he shares nonpartisan information on voting and the election through an Episcopal email list and on campus.

“The church needs to be out there advocating for participation in our government,” said Moore, a member of St. Andrew’s Cathedral. “My goal was to try to encourage people to make a choice and express that choice.”

Episcopal dioceses are stepping up their own efforts to increase voter engagement in their states and communities. The three Episcopal bishops in Tennessee issued a joint message this month calling on Episcopalians to back a state constitutional amendment that would outlaw slavery, with no exceptions made for criminal punishment. 

In New Hampshire, Bishop Rob Hirschfeld wrote an opinion article published by the Concord Monitor in which he said the faith calls on Christians to seek common ground and engage in civil discourse, especially in polarized times like these. 

“Is the middle way a compromise, or better, can it be the way by which all stakeholders stay in the room without vilifying the other?”

Episcopalians in Iowa have long organized themselves through a “Faith in Action” group on Facebook. For this election, some have joined efforts to oppose a ballot question seeking to amend the state constitution to assert an individual right to own guns. Critics say that language would go beyond the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment and make it harder to curb gun violence in Iowa.

The Rev. Wendy Abrahamson, a priest in the Diocese of Iowa who coordinates Episcopal advocacy efforts there, offered nonpartisan prayers for candidates in the upcoming elections.

“Holding in prayer everyone who is running for public office as we draw near Election Day,” Abrahamson said in an Oct. 22 post. “Let’s pray for every single candidate of every party, that God will fill them with wisdom and strength in these next few weeks.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.