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Churches in Florida and NC Push Early Voting from Sunday Pulpit

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and others go to vote early

After the Republican-led legislature in Florida changed the early voting rules, churches like Rev. R. Joaquin Willis’ Church of the Open Door in Miami had to make their own adjustments—they brought their congregants en masse to the polls after service past Sunday, the only Sunday where early voting was permitted in Florida.

In 2008, many black churches took advantage of the early voting rules to move huge numbers of voters to the polls on the Sunday before Tuesday’s election, giving an advantage to Barack Obama in the eyes of many. But this time many states with Republican legislatures have changed the rules—under the guise of preventing voter fraud, though none of them could find any evidence of voter fraud.

So the churches used last Sunday as their day to have their congregants vote, in a campaign they called “Souls to the Polls.”

“I do not feel that there’s anything right now more important than us marching as a church to the polls today,” the Rev. R. Joaquin Willis said in his sermon Sunday morning at the Church of the Open Door, located in a poor neighborhood of Miami.

Pastors at black churches in Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville arranged caravans of buses to help people get to the polls after services ended, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Ironically in Florida, a firm working on behalf of the Republican Party of Florida has been accused of submitting potentially fraudulent voter registration forms in at least 10 counties. The claims from Florida election officials have led the state’s Republican Party to file an election fraud complaint against Strategic Allied Consulting, the firm they originally employed. The allegations have prompted controversy within the Republican National Committee, which confirmed that it had suggested the firm to state parties in seven swing states.

In Florida’s Duval County, which includes Jacksonville, early voting sites saw 21,387 people vote Saturday and another 17,538 vote Sunday. In 2008, there were 183,409 early votes in Duval County, according to the Jacksonville News.

Republicans were also using the church as a get-out-the-vote operation. For instance, in North Carolina, First Baptist offered voter guides for the 1,000 or so exclusively white parishioners leaving the church on Sunday. The guides all suggsted that Mitt Romney was the “values” candidate with biblically correct positions on everything from abortion to same-sex marriage to the federal debt.

Both candidates understand the importance of early voting. There may be an increased urgency from Romney after most surveys show that Obama is picking up a sizable majority of the early votes in Florida. On Sunday afternoon, the Obama campaign released a memo saying that 48 percent of the early voters on Saturday were Democrats, compared with about 36 percent who were Republicans.

In the 2008 presidential race, more African-Americans in Florida cast ballots during the early-voting period than the combined number who voted on Election Day or cast absentee ballots, according to Daniel Smith, a political-science professor at the University of Florida.


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