Faith leaders call on state to protect voters and votes

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Faith leaders from metro held a press conference Wednesday calling on the state to protect the voting process through the Nov. 3 election.

Already, said Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, presiding prelate of the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s Sixth Episcopal District, his office has received numerous calls from voters of long lines or being told they’re at the wrong polling place. He also said he’s worried about possible intimidation from others during voting, particularly on Election Day.

Jackson was joined by faith leaders who spoke from the basement of Big Bethel AME Church on Auburn Avenue.

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

The church’s location across the street from a mural of the late Congressman John Lewis serves as a reminder of the importance of our vote, Jackson said.

He encouraged Black people to vote early, saying voter suppression is “real and still happening in Georgia.” Jackson listed a number of issues that have plagued recent elections including polling locations opening late, voting machines that don’t work and voters not receiving absentee ballots after requesting them.

“Anything and everything that makes it hard for people to vote is voter suppression,” he said.

Credit: John Spink

Credit: John Spink

He is urging African American voters who have not yet voted to do so by Oct. 30, when early voting ends in Georgia. The goal, he said, is to encourage 75% of Black voters in Georgia to cast ballots by then.

Some people have waited in line for hours to vote. Others have had relatively short wait times. Already, 2 million ballots have been cast at in-person early voting locations.

“Nobody has the right to question whether you are legally registered to vote,” said Jackson. “If you’re in line and anyone (an outsider) comes to question you, either say nothing or tell them where to go and don’t make no turns.”

He said those who think they have been a victim of voter intimidation should contact various groups who will be monitoring the election.

Abdullah Jaber, executive director of the Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the group is encouraging mosques to increase security and be on the lookout for efforts to intimidate voters.

“There’s a very tangible level of concern in our community about voter suppression, intimidation tactics, harassment and even targeted violence,” he said. “We’re trying not to raise a lot of panic, because that’s the goal of extremist groups. That’s what they want to see.”

The Rev. Cynthia L. Hale, senior pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, is among ministers who are participating in the “Lawyers and Collars Program,” which is recruiting congregants who are lawyers to be prepared to help voters who are experiencing issues at the polls on Election Day.

Billy Michael Honor , who directs the New Georgia Project’s faith initiative called “Loose the Chains," is expanding the role of the poll chaplain initiative. On Nov. 3, the goal is to have roughly 200 volunteers from various faith traditions to go to the polls to not only pass out snacks and provide comfort, as they have done in the past, but to also fill the traditional role of poll monitors and to defuse tense situations, if necessary.

In other elections news, more than 1,000 interfaith and community leaders, including many from Georgia recently signed a letter that called for federal, state and local officials to ensure every vote is counted and that voters are not intimidated.

“All of the constitutional freedoms that we enjoy, including our religious freedom, depend on the integrity of our elections — the foundation of American democracy,” stated the letter by a group called Faith Leaders United.

Among those signing the letter were Rabbi Judith Beiner, Jewish Family and Career Services; the Rev. Toni Belin Ingram, Augusta North District, Sixth District AME Church; Rabbi Peter Berg, The Temple; Brennan Breed, associate professor of Old Testament Studies, Columbia Theological Seminary; the Rev. Jamal Bryant, senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church; and the Rev. Paul Capps, senior pastor of Peachtree Baptist Church; and the Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, chairman of Interfaith Power & Light.

Photojournalist Ben Gray contributed to this report.

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