By JOHN FORTMEYER
GRANTS PASS — A church here bellieves it knows how to dramatically increase Christian voter participation in Oregon, and it will share its idea with other churches statewide in time for this fall’s general election.
Last spring, before the May primary election in Oregon, Calvary Chapel Grants Pass tried out that idea on its own. For the first time anywhere, it conducted a Bring Your Own Ballot, Vote Your Values Sunday at the church. It asked each eligible and registered voter in the congregation to bring their completed state vote-by-mail ballot to the church at Sunday morning services. Together, the church attenders placed them in the secrecy envelopes that came with the ballots, signed the outside and then enclosed those envelopes in the outer envelopes provided.
The ballots were then collected, and the church’s leadership delivered all of the ballots to the Josephine County Clerk the next day.
According to Pastor Denny Stahl, no one in the congregation knew how everyone else participating voted, but all who took part left the church service knowing that many there had exercised their civic duty by voting.
How many? Stahl estimates that about 70 percent of the eligible voters in the congregation participated in the at-church balloting. That rate is far above the norm in recent elections for Christian voting. According to former Oregon resident David Crowe, executive director of Restore America (RestoreAmerica.org), millions of evangelical Christians — whether out of apathy, ignorance, or indifference — choose not to vote in election after election.
Crowe said that of the 58 million voter eligible Christians in America, 10 million were not registered to vote for the 2006 election, and more than 20 million who were registered, did not vote. A similarly low turnout was seen in 2012. Both Crowe and Stahl believe that has contributed greatly to the moral, spiritual, economic, and political disintegration of America.
In Oregon, said Stahl, about 30 percent of the state’s residents identify as evangelical Christians, so there is huge and untapped potential for the state to be positively influenced by their voting. Because the state conducts its elections by mail rather than in designated balloting sites, churches in Oregon have a unique opportunity to bolster Christian voter participation by following the example of the Grants Pass congregation, he said.
“That was the run-up to what we truly hope will become a habit among churches,” he said.
This month, through letters, posters and e-mails, Calvary Chapel Grants Pass will invite hundreds of churches throughout Oregon to do immediately prior to the Nov. 4 general election what it did before the primary. Churches will be urged to provide Oregon Family Council voter guides to their congregations, so as to inform them about the candidates and issues, and then will invite their attenders who are eligible to vote to bring their completed ballots to church, to be forwarded then to county officials.
Stahl emphasized that state law allows ballots to be collected outside of an official ballot box, as long as the collection point is clearly marked as not a ballot box. So the concept is not only simple and practical, but legal, he said.
The original idea was to have congregations actually fill out their ballots together at the churches, but that was deemed to be too time consuming, so ballots should be brought to church already completed, he said.
For more information, contact the Grants Pass church at 541-476-6827 or firstname.lastname@example.org.