Design Observer

About
Books
Job Board
Newsletters
Archive
Contact



Observatory

About
Resources
Submissions
Contact


Featured Writers

Michael Bierut
William Drenttel
John Foster
Jessica Helfand
Alexandra Lange
Mark Lamster
Paul Polak
Rick Poynor
John Thackara
Rob Walker


Departments

Advertisement
Audio
Books
Collections
Dear Bonnie
Dialogues
Essays
Events
Foster Column
From Our Archive
Gallery
Interviews
Miscellaneous
Opinions
Partner News
Photos
Poetry
Primary Sources
Projects
Report
Reviews
Slideshows
The Academy
Today Column
Unusual Suspects
Video


Topics

Advertising
Architecture
Art
Books
Branding
Business
Cities / Places
Community
Craft
Culture
Design History
Design Practice
Development
Disaster Relief
Ecology
Economy
Education
Energy
Environment
Fashion
Film / Video
Food/Agriculture
Geography
Global / Local
Graphic Design
Health / Safety
History
Housing
Ideas
Illustration
India
Industry
Info Design
Infrastructure
Interaction Design
Internet / Blogs
Journalism
Landscape
Literature
Magazines
Media
Museums
Music
Nature
Obituary
Other
Peace
Philanthropy
Photography
Planning
Poetry
Politics / Policy
Popular Culture
Poverty
Preservation
Product Design
Public / Private
Public Art
Religion
Reputations
Science
Shelter
Social Enterprise
Sports
Sustainability
Technology
Theory/Criticism
Transportation
TV / Radio
Typography
Urbanism
Water



William Drenttel

Voting & Religion in America: A Slideshow



"Intermingling of Church and State," Boise, Idaho, anonymous photographer, 2006.

I have voted in over twenty elections, including national, state and local elections. Two times I voted by absentee ballot from Europe. I have voted in three states. I have voted in public high schools, university dining halls, municipal buildings and, in recent years, at town hall in Falls Village, Connecticut. In my many years of voting, however, I never noticed, or no one told me, that people across America, perhaps millions of citizens, are voting in churches and synagogues (and I assume mosques and other places of worship).

Apparently, I didn't get the memo.


Ballot boxes beneath pictures of Jesus? Voting booths surrounded by Hebrew texts? The walk towards a polling place framed by a steeple? This must seem incredibly naive, but it never entered my mind that people actually vote in churches: it would seem that the separation of Church and State would by definition preclude such locations. After all, every holiday season we have news about towns banning Santa Claus and Christmas trees, or preventing a memorah in the town square, or restricting nativity crèches in schools.

The reality, contrary to my perception, is that millions vote in religious settings all across the country, casting this important act of citizenry in distinctly non-secular environments.

This past September we spearheaded the Polling Place Photo Project, sponsored by AIGA, Design for Democracy and NewAssignment.net. Many Design Observer readers contributed photographs, and the site has since become a valuable archive of visual and documentary evidence — among other things, we now know a little more about where, when and how many people stand in line to vote. (We also captured data on ballot type.)

My surprise is not against religion in general, nor against any religion in particular. (And, during this holiday season, I hope my observation will not generate anti-religious or pro-religious blog banter.) There are many observations, themes and conclusions to be drawn from looking at the hundreds of photographs in the the Polling Place Photo Project. That millions of Americans vote in religious places of worship is simply a documented observation — albeit a surprising one to this writer.

Not long after we moved to the country, we made our first trip to town hall to vote in a national election. There were signs outside: Democrats to the left, Republicans to the right. We entered town hall only to find that both doors opened into the same large room. Since this wasn't a primary, there was only one ballot. At the time, I remember wondering whether this was even legal. And, since I seldom receive political flyers except from my party, my political orientation must have been visually established by the door I entered. Or, that's what I've always thought about my first vote cast in this small village, even as town hall has moved and we now all enter the front door.

The act of voting is not simply an act of pulling the lever, or using an optical scanner. It is an individual experience informed by weather, signage, instructions, and yes — location, location, location. That certain public locations provide space for Americans to exercise their legal right to vote is wonderful. That so many of them happen to also be places of worship — that most un-public of private activities — is just weird.

|
Share This Story

Comments (65)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT COMMENT >>

Judging by the slide show this whole photo project is largely directed at Christian churches. 21 photos of Christian/Catholic buildings and 1 Jewish synagogue. I greatly doubt the neutrality of the whole project.

I'm a Christian. I'd vote in a mosque and not be offended. It's just a service offered to the public by institutions with great amounts of space to donate to the democratic process.
Maybe I'm the naive one, but I don't think of polling location as something that effects the outcome of a vote.

To whoever thought that having a bake sale to benefits local churches on an election day (depicted in the slideshow): How is that a violation of the separation of church and state? Just don't buy anything.

Ryan
12.23.06 at 06:08

Are you joking me? I know that there is no actual mixing of church and state in this, but there is something to be said about visual influence. Since you SEE your environment, I would say that this would greatly impact the subconscious of some voters. This is horrible.

Why do you think they don't let people on trial come to court in their prison outfit? Because, visually, it implicates the defendant in the eyes of the jury.
Rishi Desai
12.23.06 at 07:45

I discussed this subject with a friend the other day. She commented, "What about the seperation of Church and State?"

I didn't have an answer -- and don't now.

(I voted in a church school's auditorium. Neat building and check out the cool chiseled letters for "Holy Cross School" and the looping double OO's in school.)

VR/
Joe Moran
12.23.06 at 11:38

As Ryan points out, it's merely a space.

I lived in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, and most of us had a Lutheran church around the corner assigned as our voting place. I am Agnostic. I highly doubt that walking into a church changed any of our votes, for two reasons: 1) Most, if not all people know how they will vote before walking into a voting booth, and 2) would walking into a place of worship give you an instant and impulsive change on your religious outlook? If no, then why would it change your political beliefs?

I strongly agree with seperation of church and state, but I also think that the more places to vote the better. In my case, the church was treated just like any other space, we voted in a plain white room with no hanging Jesuses or anything like that.
Bobby Dragulescu
12.24.06 at 12:25

Elections require large, indoor public spaces. In many communities (e.g., the one I live in) churches provide the only suitable locations (most churches have a large recreational halls for weddings and gatherings).

I've voted in Lutheran churches, Jewish synagogues, and, this past election, a newly built mosque. I'm an atheist, and I've never given the issue a second thought. If anything, it's been a welcome opportunity to visit somewhere I might never have been. Before this November I had never set foot in a mosque, and likely never would have if it hadn't been my designated polling place.

Does anyone honestly think that votes are swayed or influenced by locating the polling place in a church? I never imagined this could be an issue, and so far I've seen no evidence that it's a problem.
Ricky W
12.24.06 at 01:54

"Does anyone honestly think that votes are swayed or influenced by locating the polling place in a church?"

Seriously observant people? I'd be surprised if there was no influence. Pictures of eyes prevent theft; reminding people that G-d is watching surely would produce a similar result.
Randolph Fritz
12.24.06 at 02:33

Well why not have voting in church? Your money says trust in god. how about trusting in god when it comes to electing smart people that will to the right thing.
Kris
12.24.06 at 04:34

If you are "seriously observant," then you're of the mind that God is always watching, and I doubt you need to see a fresco or stained glass window to remind you of His omnipresence. (God is like Santa—he sees you when you're sleeping, knows when your awake, and knows who you voted for in the mid-term primary, regardless of where you voted.)

The main point of the article, so far as I can discern one, is to note the author's surprise at the mundane fact that people vote in places of worship. In the comments there is the added suggestion that the iconography of the church somehow how preys on the subconscious of potential voters.

Has anyone ever heard report of this? If not, how many people do you think this seriously impacts? We seem restricted to a pool of fragile and paranoid believers whose vote is determined by the proximity of a crucifix or altar. Likely there are such people, but then there are likely people whose vote is swayed by the candidate out front who gave them a pack of VOTE SNYDER pretzels. People are impacted in many subtle ways; you can't guard against every eccentricity. Unless someone can somehow show or put forward a convincing case that holding elections in close proximity to religious locations has a significant effect on election results, then I don't see this as an issue. (If anyone cared, studies could be (and maybe have been) conducted. Just compare the results in a number of districts that switched polling places from religious to non-religious and vice versa, while controlling for expected fluctuations in the demographics and other variables.)

Also, just a note to those who have never experienced such things: It's not as if the election booths are located in confessionals. Usually the voting takes place in some structure ancillary to the church—e.g., a gymnasium attached to a Catholic school or, in my case, the common room attached to the side of the mosque's greeting hall (a room which had no overtly Muslim symbolism—just a linoleum floor and a stack of chairs.)
Ricky W
12.24.06 at 07:21

It's possible that research literature on priming could suggest that brief, involuntary exposure to religiously-themed visual stimuli would have a tiny degree of influence on the vote of someone who (a) doesn't really care about voting and (b) is already somewhat inclined to take "religious" issues into consideration when voting. For most voters, however, voting is what you might call a medium- to high-elaboration decision: you actually think about it before making up your mind on it, so such subtle visual cues at the periphery of your attention wouldn't have any effect.

That, of course, is only in theory. By the same theory, you could argue that the same effect might take place if you just happen to walk by a church (or a person with a "VOTE REPUBLICAN" t-shirt, or a poster with an elephant on it) on your way to vote. You could make similar priming effects arguments about anywhere you could choose. (In an office building? Now you're voting pro-business. In a park? Now you're inclined to vote for whoever supports public works.) I'd be interested to read someone do research about this—does decor of polling place have any impact on voting decision among political moderates/undecideds, when you control for existing party affiliation or other major factors?—but I strongly suspect that such a study would find no statistically significant effect and never get published.

I think this seems "weird" (or outrageous) to the readers/writers here not because the actual effects we're discussing are likely to make any difference, but because catering to religious interests is a hot-button issue among testy liberals (and I include myself in that group). You want to express concern over the separation of church and state, though, I suggest starting with elected officials' stated campaign agendas overtly catering to religious groups. That has a much greater impact on actual policy debates and government operations, I'd wager.
JST
12.24.06 at 01:09

Sorry. I've lost track of the issue. Is it merely Bill's heretofore sheltered life? Worry that use of a location for voting represents some level of endorsement by the government? (Does that worry apply to old folks' homes and the VFW, too? How about if voting took place in a comic book store? Would that be a government affirmation of Archie's objectification of Veronica?) Is the topic our collective love of knee-jerk anti-religiosity? A nostalgic desire to hang out in a grade school multi-purpose room? An actual belief that the power of some particular sect's God is so great that it will have an affect on your voting (but is so limited that its reliable distance from an altar is approximately that of a WiFi transmitter)?
Gunnar Swanson
12.24.06 at 01:42

As far as I know there is nothing in the Constitution legally separating church and state. It was definitely a philosophy held by many founding fathers but the legalities were actually in the opposite direction. The government shall establish no religion on it's people not that religions may influence government. I personally think everyone should stay out of each others business and that includes religious doctrine in the government. Now the term 'government' I think is lost on most politicians these days.
Christian G
12.24.06 at 01:52

I find it odd that so many people find it necessary to pretend that the leaders of religious faiths don't attempt to influence the political views, and choices, of their followers. This is a trait that I wouldn't associate with comic book store proprietors, to use Gunnar Swanson's example. Churches are not "just a space" like comic book stores, or old folks' homes, or parks are.

As a product of Catholic school education (St. Theresa's, Garfield Heights, Ohio), I would still find it somewhat unnerving — 40 years later — to wait in line under the gaze of the BVM to pull a lever in favor of a pro-choice candidate. Perhaps our other commenters are made of sterner stuff than me.
Michael Bierut
12.24.06 at 02:40

I don't think people would spontaneously change their vote just because they're sent off to a religious building to do it, but it does have a long term effect on the general views of the people in a community where that happens. Every time I visit a town which is that centered around the local church (or mosque, or synagogue) I am appalled by how many people don't really question the views of the community they were born into. People shouldn't feel pressured to adopt the religious beliefs of others, which is why I think it's incredibly important to keep public activities out of religious spaces.
sig
12.24.06 at 06:32

When I voted for the first time it was in my parish church, in the basement, at age 21. That was 44 years ago! I have never thought about where I was going to vote, I just went!! It may have been a Catholic church hall, a YMCA, an Air Force Base Community Center, a Baptist Church hall, or a Public School gym, it didn't matter ~ I was doing my duty as a citizen of the United States. What's the big deal? A small town may only have a church and a one room post office, so they use what is most convenient. It's what brings our people togther.

God Bless America!

(Joe's Mom.)
Carol Moran
12.24.06 at 09:18

Almost everone who is against having voting done in a religious space seems to be speaking for someone else. It would be more convincing if you were to speak for yourselves and not a hypothetical vast majority you think you are representing. Have you been influenced to vote based on where you voted? I doubt it.

Amos
12.24.06 at 11:34

If I started a massive church of devil worship (with plenty of space for voting) and it became a polling place, the whole country would go completely apeshit. But what's the difference?
Ryan
12.25.06 at 04:36

The Constitution does not require separation of Church and State. This is common misunderstanding of the law of the land.

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment says that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . ." This means that Congress may not establish a National religion.

The fact that you found polling places in all kinds of different churches means that the law is being followed.
PMV
12.25.06 at 12:01

I'm not sure I find Michael Bierut's objection (IMHO, the clearest and best argued in this thread) convincing. I would not pretend that the leaders of religious faiths don't attempt to influence the political views, and choices, of their followers. Neither would I pretend that the leaders of corporations and civic organizations do not. So what, precisely, is the difference between the danger of voting in the Free Will Baptist Church vs, the Grange Hall down the street? (And do you really believe that comics are not part of the cultural struggle that influences the political? Occasionally they are a bit less overt.)

Maybe in a perfect world we would all vote in state-owned buildings; every neighborhood would have a convenient school where the kids don't eat lunch or use the gym on election day anyway or a library that's always closed on Tuesdays. I'm curious what non-governmental buildings would be acceptable or not. I've seen voting in garages of houses. Would it matter whose garage? How about the YMCA? (Don't forget to note the C.) How about the digs of a group that overtly and clearly influences policy (like ACLU offices, a union hall, or the John Birch Society headquarters)?

The best argument seems to be that the setting might make someone uncomfortable in voting—Michael's Catholic guilt or an objection to setting foot in the heretics' den. Does that include Boy Scout headquarters if you're gay or afraid of feeling bad for not being prepared? Plenty of people have religious objections to the Masons so the lobby of a Shriners Hospital is out. I don't know if anyone votes in saloons anymore but the legend is that it is the reason bars close on election day in many places. Frances Willard' follwers would rather vote at church.

I know people who would object to any for-profit organization being tacitly endorsed by government action. Would voting in a book store, a Wal-Mart, or an Emporio Armani Caffé be better or worse than a Scientology Center or a Christian Science Reading Room?
Gunnar Swanson
12.25.06 at 01:53

I voted for the first time at a church in Center-City Philadelphia this past November. I thought it was a bit strange, and it made me feel kind of comfortable in an odd way.

My mind was already well made up and the setting had no affect on me - I suppose the real question lies with how this effects the undecided voters?

But come to think of it, could that feeling of comfort, or for those with negative emotions related to church-going, affect how we answer things like the tax disbursement questions? A veteran support bill comes to mind, which was on the ballot this past election.
Marc Hummel
12.25.06 at 02:19

Democrats or Republicans?
I think there are more important issues that may prevent voters from being able to express theirselves. How about leftist people voting for Democrats instead of a leftist party? Does the church they vote in make big of a difference?
Okan Usta
12.26.06 at 02:12

There are two voting places for me, depending on whether it's a local (city) election or a state/national election. (I think there are fewer locations for city elections.)

The state/national polling place is a non-descript multi-purpose room in a Presbyterian church (in what I perceive as a highly Baptist area of the city). My voting place for city elections is the hallway of a junior high school.

As most above have pointed out, our votes are already determined when we go to cast them. The school voting place can stoke the fever of anti-tax people; the people with kids in that school might feel angry that anyone could vote against giving their kids a better education.

But voters can only cast one vote, and it's only worth one point. There's no scale of -10 to +10. It's just yes or no. And if venue REALLY bothers someone, s/he can vote absentee. Simply take the absentee ballot home. Or into the confessional. Or the bar.

What about the 51% of voters who create the community in which the other 49% have to live, when these are two highly-divided communities?

In summary, the "problem" with elections is not the venue. It's that people who don't agree on issues have to live with each other.
chuck pratt
12.26.06 at 08:44

One more point.

Since this is a design forum, remember that ballot design can have a very, very strong impact on the election results. This is much more of a "problem" than venue.
chuck pratt
12.26.06 at 08:57

I think most people hear the phrase "separation of Church and State" and think they know what this means. What is written in the constitution is not what some people think it says.

I see no issue with voting in any location. Most people's minds are made up before they vote. If they are not then perhaps they should not be voting since they did not take the time to really consider the candidates and the issues they support.

People like to make waves. This comes across as an attempt to do that.
Bob
12.26.06 at 10:02

Maybe in a perfect world we would all vote in state-owned buildings

Churches and places of worship are somewhat state owned. Churches are incorporated corporations. They may not include the INC. part on their building signage or visual identity but look at their papers of incorporation. Churches have annual business meetings and release an annual report to their members (i.e. shareholders). The title of President is assigned to the senior pastor in the annual report.

The government has a big role in the church and vise versa. Look at the some of today's political candidates who are now claiming a religious or faith background and even appointing faith consultants to their campaigns. More notably Sen. Hillary Clinton.

And Sen. Barak Obama visited a church in California and called his house of worship. The republicans already have the church in their pocket now is the democrats turn.
1 of 300,000,000
12.26.06 at 12:58

the most surprising thing of all has gone completely without mention: the Red Rock Christian Church is advertising Sun Worship on their marque! since when are ancient Egyptian cults in vogue in the Christian community?
plain*clothes
12.26.06 at 04:24

With a slight change of perspective, voting in churches can be seen as a triumph of the separation of church and state. The churches can be praised for allowing votes they find morally objectionable to occur in their spaces. I know that was what was going on when we voted. If you're so inclined, you could also consider it an "in your face" opportunity, one that has a rich tradition in the U.S.
Kenneth FitzGerald
12.26.06 at 04:34

I'm surprised that Mr. Drenttel, has never noticed that fact that voting goes on in local institutions such as churches, synagogues, mosques, etc. Approx 65% of our country's voting occurs in places like this. I've voted in church halls/community rooms just about everywhere I've ever lived, and traveling to work on voting day I always pass a good handful.

I've never thought twice about, always seen it for what it seemed like -- a community-based organization lending their space for the democratic process. My political leanings have never been swayed by where I've ever voted. I've never seen it as a conflict.

Then again, I could be wrong ...
Larkin
12.26.06 at 05:20

Cool, lets talk politics but this post seems arbitrary, I wish the author was a little more clear about what he's saying.

The post seems silly to me, people can drive to their churches to vote if they'd like too, more importantly it's their choice & the gov't certainly isn't advocating you to go to a mosque or church to vote; they just want u to vote.

Honestly the post is so pointless it comes off as if the author is just against certain beliefs people may have even though he clearly noted this wasn't his intent.
babak
12.26.06 at 11:06

What's wrong with their local school as a voting place? Why a nasty church? I'd be offended if my voting place was in a paedophile pit, I'd probably have to take a dump on the alter just to express myself.
Mother
12.27.06 at 03:42

I, like many who've posted here, never consciously "saw" the irony or even paused for a beat at the idea of secular voting within a religious space. I thank Mr. Drentell for being so observant. I doubt I will participate in this ritual in the future without considering the context of the experience (and with a little knowing smirk, no less).
Jessica Gladstone
12.27.06 at 09:44

I'll concede that "parks" may have not been the best counterexample, though Gunnar offers some excellent points. Religious institutions aren't the only organizations with political agendas, and you would be hard pressed to find sufficient space for polling places in many communities if you counted out the churches/synagogues/mosques/etc.

Those who point out that the constitution never explicitly "separates" church and state are correct: the way that part of the first amendment seems to be handled in practice is to make a show of displaying multiple religious symbols in public spaces where any are displayed at all (e.g., putting up a menorah and a "holiday" tree in a public park so you're not favoring one religion over others).

I'd also like to add that it's not quite accurate to talk about voting in places of religious worship as if "the church" is some homogeneous, monolithic entity. Like another commenter here, I voted in a church in my neighborhood (Presbyterian), but it was in a general meeting hall unadorned with religious imagery. Voting takes place in churches that overtly preach against homosexuality and churches that actively promote acceptance of all people. It takes place in Episcopalian churches, Unitarian churches, synagogues, mosques, etc. This is how it does not violate the constitution: as long as polling places aren't actively placed in Christian churches over Jewish synagogues, they're fine. (Legal-type folks feel free to jump in and correct me if I understand this incorrectly.)

I appreciate everyone's comments on this issue, and I find it interesting that this topic has generated so much discussion. I'd like to respectfully suggest, however, that this conversation isn't really about the persuasive effects of religious imagery on voting, or even about the policy concerns associated with polling places: it's about frustration with and distrust of certain conservative Christian churches trying to influence voting behaviors. (Would that violate their status as tax-exempt non-profits..?) This in itself may be a valid concern, but there's not much sense in approaching it as a broad design problem or church/state separation issue.
JST
12.27.06 at 11:46

Wow -- a lot of heat over polling places. I have voted in every national, state and local election and primary that I can think of since 1969. I would not, do not care where it is that I vote. What is most important, and it has been said in many of the comments, is to vote.

I also think that an ink stained finger is a good idea.
Dan Lewis
12.27.06 at 01:28

Where I grew up in Illinois, we never voted in churches -- schools, libraries, and the like were always used. School would continue to be in session when voting was going on to. As students, we just had to avoid the gym or the library or wherever the voting was taking place.

When I moved to Virginia, I voted in a church. It was a church gymnasium and there wasn't any religious iconography in the space itself. And at first, it did give me a "your not in the North anymore, son" moment. But I got over it.

When I moved to California, where various counties have VERY strict laws about how far you have to walk to a polling place -- sometimes it has to be less than a block. Or two. We voted wherever we could. In Oakland, we voted in a church gymnasium again. Still no iconography in that space. And in SF, polling places were everywhere -- from people's garages (I kid you not) to community centers. Anything that would offer up the space. And that would assure polling places on every few block.

Now back in DC, we vote in schools mostly. And other secular community locations.

I grew up presbyterian, so iconography of the church has very little meaning to me. JC is not hung all around the church in the way that He is in Catholic churches. That being said, I could see that voting on a school bond while in a school building would potentially influence a vote as well. So I'm not sure you could ever have an entirely neutral space.
DC1974
12.27.06 at 02:27

Here we have the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This could not be more simple. Everything else that is written about government and religion is extraneous. Most people conveniently forget about the part that says, ...prohibiting the free exercise thereof...

Why is there all this angst about Christianity? Anyone who takes the time to honestly appraise what Christians have accomplished (and continue to accomplish) on behalf of the people of the world will cease to be concerned about the impact of that faith.

Whenever true evil has been perpetrated in the name of Christ, and it has been, you can be sure it was not taught by Christ, but was the work of evil men. This is fully consistent with the Christian concept of original sin. It proves that we all need redemption.
John Hotchkiss
12.27.06 at 03:48

Very interesting conversation. My two cents..
I don't mind voting in church or any other place as long as I have options. It is a small yet important distinction.
I am not a christian and have visited many chruches/cathederals as an admirer and a designer (think Notre-Dame). I don't see any reason why we can't extend the same perspective when you go voting. That said, it is the choice I made to visit these places and there lies the difference.
rambo
12.27.06 at 04:48

The link to the Stanford study in Larkin's post is very interesting, everyone should check it out. The one photograph with the tortured jesus sketch on the wall is prevalent- jesus died for your sins AND your vote... for anyone who is a "swing voter", imagery like this can be very persuasive. A number of the commentators here may have the conviction to stand against ther persuasion, but there is also an impressionable majority who will kotow to the ingrained and dominant force that is religion..for better or worse.
Jro
12.28.06 at 11:32

Jro said:
A number of the commentators here may have the conviction to stand against ther persuasion, but there is also an impressionable majority who will kotow to the ingrained and dominant force that is religion..for better or worse.
For a quick and relevant reference in the way of response, see the Wikipedia entry on third person effect. Particularly notable here:
A number of scholars have speculated that "experts" are particularly likely to overemphasize the effects of the media on others (Diamond, 1978).
JST
12.28.06 at 11:42

It would seem that accessible government buildings whose necessary functions would not be disturbed are the best place for a poling site. (Would someone who objects to school bonds believe that voting in a school presents an unfair influence?) If, however, you make people travel miles to vote in a high school rather than a couple of blocks to vote in Ryan's Satanic Synagogue, you may have effectively eliminated voting for the infirmed or those without transportation. That seems like it might be a greater Constitutional crisis than a sectarian voting place.

My early votes (in Southern California) were often in my old elementary school but sometimes in someone's garage. I have voted in churches in Minnesota and California. I worked as an election judge in a retirement home in North Carolina but it wasn't my precinct. (The home was owned by the Methodists and there was a chapel next door. Is that a problem?) I don't believe that the location ever had any effect on my votes.

I would vote in a church in North Carolina except that I get an absentee ballot to save myself the trouble of that long one-block walk. Actually, it's because Rosemary and I don't seem to end up with Tuesday schedules that allow us to vote at the same time and somehow that seems important to us.

Which brings me to a secular voting place question: We vote by absentee ballot much of the time. I liked being able to have a standing order for an absentee ballot in California and regret that North Carolina makes us go through a tap dance to get one each election. But would a communitarian who believed influence by voting location object to my practice? Does voting at home make me more selfish than stepping out and seeing my neighbors voting? Is the entire State of Oregon moving away from voting for community because they vote by mail? Is the presence of the television or my computer in my voting place more or less of an insidious influence than the presence of Red Rock's solar icons or Ryan's Beelzebub stained glass?
Gunnar Swanson
12.28.06 at 12:49

For the past 15 years my polling place has been a Knights of Columbus hall in suburban New York. For most of that time, there was a large, permanent "Abortion is Murder" sign just outside the entrance to the hall. You can just imagine the effect this might have on a Catholic voter intending to vote for a pro-choice candidate.

Religious venues are not neutral spaces.
janemar
12.28.06 at 12:52

Bill—Did your poling place have a back door for those of us who are neither Democrat nor Republican?
Gunnar Swanson
12.28.06 at 01:01

I think this is an interesting discussion. Although it's less of a legal/moral debate and more about context. It's the implied context of religion within our government that causes the tension. Religion is often seen as a dividing line in politics, and because that line falls so close along party lines it's easy to see how one can percieve a religious space to be "bias". Whether that perception is correct or valid is unanswerable, since it is completely determined by an individuals opinion, surroundings, cultural background; e.g. Context.

For the record, I too find it a bit odd, if not uncomfortable. It's kind of like eating at the buffet at a seedy strip club. Neither one is mutually exclusive of the other, but somehow it just doesn't sit well. For me.
Nick
12.28.06 at 05:36

Thank you Bill for raising this issue on this web site. As designers we have to assume that design matters. As environmental designers we have to believe that place matters and that the design of place and all that place communicates has to matter, even if only a little bit. If we don't believe this, why are we designers in the first place? While I believe all the folks who state that they are not influenced in their voting patterns by place, I do not feel that this abrogates the neccessity to explore this subject and better understand the design assumptions and biases that are projected when we undertake activities in places that have messages that reinforce some value systems and marginalize others.

There are three other points I want to make;

1. I am always uncomfortable with those who cite the constitution, particularly designers (though who knows on a blog who is citing anything since most people here hide behind nom-de-guerres). The consititution is a document and we all should read it and better undertstand it, but in order to have any appreciation of the church versus state arguments one would need to delve into the many Supreme Court decisions to be able to parse this issue in a meaningful way. Does anyone on this site have any insights in this regard?

2. In California huge numbers of people are now voting by absentee ballot. I am not sure that this in any way moots the discussion of what constitutes the influence of secular as opposed to sacred space and the appropriateness of mixing the two during an election but it does suggest that certain types of public ceremonies and rituals, such as the one Bill described separating Republicans and Democrats at his City Hall, are becoming quaint and marginalized.

3. On a pesonal note, I vote in a Methodist Church in Los Angeles and I have always thought it odd and a little uncomfortable. I have always wonderd about the efficacy of voting in a church in a republic of laws. The philosophic confusion seems problematic to me at least. On the other hand, it was a relief to vote in this generally accessible location right off Wilshire Boulevard as opposed to the living room of a house in a gated community next door to the church. I always though it was bizarre and off-putting that I had to pass muster with a guard at "Freemont Place" before I could enter the private street to vote. There is a guy who haunts Wilshire in this area who is affectinately known as Shakey. He shakes, smells like he could catch on fire, and is quite unkempt. I doubt he could have gotten into Freemont Place to vote, even on election day. Plus, the living room made me feel not as anonymous as I would have liked. I certainly felt like I was being screened and eventually complained to the election officials. I have no idea if my complaint was matched by others but the next election was held at the Church.

My personal belief is that this secular ritual of democratic elections best takes place in public as opposed to private or religious spaces.

Space and place and the design of same matters.
John Kaliski
12.28.06 at 07:18

I think that this plan is a republican conspiracy.

scrumptious gumptious
rishi desai
12.28.06 at 10:05

Mr. Kaliski,

What is your definition of "post-modern." Can you please define it in one or two sentences? I can't seem to find a simple definition of "the term" anywhere. (Hundreds of words on Wikipedia and elsewhere, but no concrete explanation.)

I await your reply. In space/s, and time.

Very Respectfully,

Joe Moran
Kansas City, Mo.
joseph.moran@sbcglobal.net
Joe Moran
12.28.06 at 10:31

"what about voting in a church?"

In my country, Italy, voting in churches would be inacceptable for the political and social history of our democracy.

we vote in schools (everywhere there is a school, I mean public schools), and this is simbolically acceptable: pubblic school is the place where people with different socio-economical and cultural background meet each other.
when the process of privatization of public space will be complete I think that we will accept places like churches for voting.
dc
12.29.06 at 05:09

JST- I think I understand the point you are making. Please correct me if I am wrong, but what you seem to be implying is that I am just as easily impressionable as the victims I am trying to defend. perhaps I am influenced by the media? I think its hard to find someone who isn't. However - in regards to my statement, the strangle hold power of the church is not some fabricated propoganda of "the liberal press", it is heavily doucmented and evident in nearly every record of history. Religion has always been (but hopefully won't always be) an impediment of social change.
Jro
12.29.06 at 08:56

Mr. Moran,

My definition of "post-modern"? - inspired by this thread? - in 2006/7? Hmmmmm....

Critically, regionally, semiotically, post-fordistally, historically, and ironically (when I am trying to be post-modernly) yours,

John
John Kaliski
12.29.06 at 11:09

Note to self: Never challenge Kaliski to a game of Scrabble.
Joe Moran
12.29.06 at 01:51

Some people like to hear themselves talk, and some like to read their own type. Anyone can sit with a thesaurus and rattle off words. This is a place for response and analysis, not to show off the power of Roget.
Amos
12.29.06 at 03:50

Hey Amos,

You said...It would be more convincing if you were to speak for yourselves and not a hypothetical vast majority you think you are representing.

Joe was responding to my post above. I thouhgt he was trying to pin me down about the post-modern precisely because of my emphasis in my post on space and place, subjects which postmodernism was obssessed with. I did not want to get cornered into this type of discourse on this post so therefor I responded to his post by answering and not answering his query, hopefully respectfully.

This is off the subject, but it is curious. The web version of Roget's does not have any entries for post-modern or postmodern. I am also a terrible scrabble player and cannot spell.
John Kaliski
12.29.06 at 06:27

My apologies for getting off topic. But thanks for the direction John. (And to Bill for letting it happen).

As for my friend's comment about seperation -- I didn't have an answer because I've always voted in Church gyms or foyers. I'm shocked that anyone *hasn't* at least once in their lifetime.

My Mom was schocked, too and wanted to participate. (Her first blog comment EVER! Way to go Mom.)

Always enjoy the different views of America, and the world, that I find here. Very enlightening.

VR/
Joe Moran
12.29.06 at 10:08

Follow up: Thankful that my original comment to Mr. Kaliski wasn't yanked at first sight for being so off the topic of this post. I told no one beforehand I was going to ask his definition.

R/
Joe Moran
12.29.06 at 11:25

Hi From Australia!

We have the same arrangements here. The only place we usually have to vote is Churches, Halls, etc.

The other thing in Australia is we have a lot of refugees and immigrants from all sorts of countries, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria.

We as Australians didnt mind where had to go to vote, but the new people comming to the country refuse to go to any other place accept their own religous places of worship.

It makes it very hard to organise, as they also will not allow normal Australians in there to kept an eye on proceedings.

Regards

Darryl
Melbourne Web Design
01.02.07 at 07:40

This comment comes a bit late, but I'm surprised that no one's brought up a recent paper that tries to quantify the influence of different polling places.

A 2006 study by researchers at Stanford concludes that polling places do measurably affect the way people vote.

The researchers examined data from the 2000 Arizona election. For an ballot initiative on school funding, they found that "voters were more likely to support this initiative if they voted in a school versus other types of polling locations (55.0 percent versus 53.09 percent)." Laboratory experiments found that images of, say, schools or religious buildings did affect the way test subjects voted.

One percent? Enough to swing an election, these days.
David Ramos
01.03.07 at 12:29

I'm a political organizer who has worked for years with community organizations trying to increase voter turnout in low income and minority communities. My standard is whether a certain aspect of the registration or voting experience will deter voters who are voting for the first time, have lower literacy levels, and/or have had less than positive interactions with government agencies in the past.

The experience of registration and voting is a huge determinant of whether someone votes either for the first time or ever again. One comment that I don't think anyone has made is that the location of a polling location, while it apparently does have an effect on how someone votes, certainly has an effect on whether someone votes. Not just proximity, handicap accessibility, parking, pollworker training, ballot design, etc., but whether the building is a space someone feels welcome to enter. Given the increasingly vocal role some religious institutions are taking in supporting or condemning certain groups in society, I can believe there are some voters who feel threatened enough to choose not to enter. (Although I believe that proximity and pollworker training are FAR MORE determinative aspects of the polling place experience.)

Also - while absentee voting or vote by mail is becoming increasingly common, in many states that have new ID requirements at voting (and voting by mail) there is nothing "simple" about absentee voting.

Also -- I did a little photo essay myself years ago in southern Virginia, taking shots of local registrar offices that were located in the sherriff's office, in the courthouse, etc. Not exactly institutions that African-Americans in the area had had positive experiences with...
brooklynnyc
01.03.07 at 05:04

I don't think religious space affects peoples voting but I think real problem is that people have to visit religious space if they want to vote.

For example for me visiting religious space is unpleasant experience.
Tuomo
01.04.07 at 07:41

It is nice to see strong reactions. I just have one thig to say. If democracy and secularism have to thrive together, in places like US, India, Australia , one needs to be sensitive.
As i mentioned before, I don't mind voting in a church or temple if the options are none. We have other kind of institutions that are neutral such as schools, libraries, government buildings, recreational halls, police station that are devoid of cultural/religious decoration. We need to tap into that infrastructure first.
Have a great year
rambo
01.07.07 at 06:25

I don't have a problem with this at all. It's just a building to vote in. How is this different going to vote in City Hall where you are more likely to be hit with propaganda and other influences. What I DO have a problem with is having election signs along the pathway or door leading into the poling station. I believe that is illegal. At least in Texas I think it is.
Caleb
01.08.07 at 05:44

In the United States churches are political. Call it what you will ... recommendations, endorsements, pressure, influence or orders...churches and their leaders have considerable motive and means to influence a nations political future. This has been going on for centuries.. all over the world. In a country like the United States where Christian extremism is on the rise the principle of separating church and state is of utmost importance.

TC
01.09.07 at 07:45

In the United States churches are political. Call it what you will ... recommendations, endorsements, pressure, influence or orders...churches and their leaders have considerable motive and means to influence a nations political future. This has been going on for centuries.. all over the world. In a country like the United States where Christian extremism is on the rise the principle of separating church and state is of utmost importance.

Tony
01.09.07 at 07:46

who cares?
It's stupid to make a big deal about something like this.
Cozby
01.13.07 at 04:28

DESIGNER NEEDED BY AIGA FOR ELECTION DESIGN
Location: Salem, Oregon
Salary: Approximately $3,000/month + AIGA staff benefits
Position Description: AIGA, in partnership with the Oregon Secretary of State's office, is sponsoring a one-year, full-time position in Election Design. Of specific focus will be materials associated with training elections officials and staff, educating the general public and adhering to the election reforms
mandated by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). AIGA is seeking a strong designer who will be judged on his or her portfolio, strategic thinking, organization, ability to meet deadlines, and commitment to serving in the public sector. This Salem-based position will also assist multiple state departments in their general communication and design, taking on challenges few designers get the opportunity to solve. For information or to send qualified recommendations: contact kelly_mclaughlin @ aiga.org. Online at:
http://www.aigadesignjobs.org/public/job_details.asp?job_id=11853&p=y.
William Drenttel
01.19.07 at 09:48

I am a Christian, just thought I should preface this comment with that.

Christians should not, in my opinion, have voting stations in churches. Why? Because having a voting station in a non-secular building will not (or should not) affect a Christians conviction to vote for the benifit of all citizens of a country. If there is even the possibility that having a vote in a religious building may affect the vote of non-religious people, then we have a duty as Christians to take the vote elsewhere.
Dan Gilmore
02.04.07 at 04:25

Why don't you vote in public schools, like we do here in Belgium ?

This seems so obvious for me...
tristan
02.04.07 at 06:24

How is this different going to vote in City Hall where you are more likely to be hit with propaganda and other influences. What I DO have a problem with is having election signs along the pathway or door leading into the poling station.
JACOB
05.10.11 at 01:33


Design Observer encourages comments to be short and to the point; as a general rule, they should not run longer than the original post. Comments should show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard.
Read Complete Comments Policy >>


Name             

Email address 




Please type the text shown in the graphic.


|
Share This Story



ABOUT THE SLIDESHOW

Voting in Religious Environments: A slideshow of photographs from the Polling Place Photo Project.
View Slideshow >>

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

William Drenttel is a designer and publisher, and editorial director of Design Observer. He is a partner at Winterhouse, a design consultancy focused on social change, online media and educational institutions, and a senior faculty fellow at the Yale School of Management.
More Bio >>

DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









BOOKS BY William Drenttel

Looking Closer 5
Allworth Press, 2006

Looking Closer 4
Allworth Press, 2002

Looking Closer 2
Allworth Press, 1997

Looking Closer 1
Allworth Press, 1994

More books by contributors >>

RELATED POSTS


Mr. Vignelli's Map
Vignelli Celebration: Massimo Vignelli's 1972 New York City subway map is a beautiful example of information design that was ultimately rejected by its users.

Reflections on The Ephemeral World, Part One: Ink
An elegy to the makeready — those sheets of paper, re-fed into a press to get the ink balances up to speed, leaving a series of often random, palimpsest-like, multiple impressions on a single surface — in the digital age.

Cranbrook Commencement Address
"I come to you, like all commencement speakers, as an emissary from the future." The commencement address delivered by Julie Lasky at the Cranbrook Academy of Art on May 9, 2008.

Greening the Grocery Store
It turns out that the "recycling symbol" at the bottom of my yogurt container had nothing to do with its recyclability. So why was it there? My curiosity led to findings around which I built a design class.

O.H.W. Hadank
Paul Rand held Hadank in the highest esteem because he practiced modernist formal principles even though he did not follow its dogma or style. And most important, as Rand said “Hadank was then and always an original. A profile of O.H.W. Hadank by Steven Heller...