Church Groups Registering Voters Must Heed IRS Laws

Sep 20, 2019
Originally published on September 20, 2019 7:26 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

The 2020 election cycle is generating some strong feelings - no surprise there. Conservatives and progressives both are mounting voter registration drives targeting as many of their supporters as they can, even churches are getting involved. Here's NPR's Tom Gjelten.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Faith groups have led voter registration drives before, but in this time of culture war, there are some new entrants.

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JASON YATES: We've got hundreds signed up. We've got over a hundred on the call right now. And I just want to thank you because you've determined that you can do something, and that's what this is all about. This is about individuals. This is about Christians who say, my faith matters, and I want to do something.

GJELTEN: Jason Yates leads a new conservative Christian movement called My Faith Votes. This Sunday, they'll have volunteers manning voter registration tables in more than 500 churches around the country. Yates was speaking there on a webinar to prepare the operation.

Among other church groups, there's CatholicVote, Faith in Public Life - that's a progressive group - and Our Faith, Our Vote run by the United Church of Christ.

The IRS bars churches from endorsing candidates or coordinating with parties, but each movement does stand for certain principles. Sandy Sorensen of the United Church of Christ lists what she calls the markers for her Our Faith, Our Vote campaign.

SANDY SORENSEN: For example, calling for a comprehensive and fair immigration policy, calling for a living wage, calling for greater access to health care - all of those things are things that our United Church of Christ General Synod has spoken to.

GJELTEN: The My Faith Votes group, on the other hand, wants Christians to choose leaders who are, quote, "God-fearing, pro-life, pro-man-woman marriage and who honor Israel." Of course, churches have to register people without knowing for sure how they'll vote, so there is some risk in the effort. In his webinar, Jason Yates shared some of the questions he was getting.

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YATES: This is from Stephanie (ph). What if you know, even at the end of the day, the majority of the church will still vote for a liberal candidate? And I think when she says liberal candidate, she's talking about people who don't stand for biblical principles.

GJELTEN: Progressive groups may have a similar concern. But generally, church groups say the more people vote, the better. There's always a way to suggest which campaign deserves your vote.

On the My Faith Votes webinar, consultant Mark Matta had advice on how the people listening should view the coming election and on the need for them to act.

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MARK MATTA: It is a spiritual war, as we all know. And the other side that is anti-life, anti-family, anti-marriage, anti-Bible, they're very active. They're very active, and they're involved.

GJELTEN: Under IRS guidelines, churches that distribute voter guides or conduct registration drives cannot reveal their bias, but that rule is rarely enforced.

Tom Gjelten, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.