A New Church in Tennessee Exists Purely to Help Residents Vote Early June 9, 2020

A New Church in Tennessee Exists Purely to Help Residents Vote Early

Tennessee, a state run by Republicans, doesn’t want to make it easier for everyone to vote.

Unlike some states that are sending out absentee ballots to all registered voters in light of the pandemic, Tennessee officials require residents to give a reason if they want an absentee ballot. Maybe they’re older, or have a disability, or decided it’s “impossible or unreasonable” to vote in person due to COVID. But if you’re someone who just wants to vote early, that doesn’t work.

Why do all that? Perhaps because Republicans are worried that making voting easier will benefit Democrats. (Which isn’t even true.) The hurdle of requiring an excuse would disproportionately affect people who can’t take the day off work, or who don’t have cars, or who are more likely to have something come up unexpectedly on Election Day. If you believe those people are more likely to vote for Democrats, then there’s an incentive to keep this particular hurdle in place.

But one 27-year-old man is now using a loophole in the law to make it easier for any Tennessee citizen to obtain an absentee ballot and vote early.

State law says one reason you may obtain an absentee ballot is if “You are observing a religious holiday that prevents you from voting in person during the early voting period and on Election Day.”

So if there was a religion that simply declared Election Day — for any election — a holiday, it would serve as a legitimate reason to request a ballot no matter who you are

Introducing: The Church of Universal Suffrage, an officially registered non-profit religious organization that exists purely to circumvent Republican voter suppression in Tennessee.

It was established earlier this month by Tim Jacobs, an employee of the state’s Department of Environment & Conservation.

From his description:

We hold regular, weekly Sunday Service where we meditate on the nature of voter suppression and corruption. We also hold every voting day in the United States to be an official holiday reserved for meditation on the nature of voter suppression and in celebration of our inalienable right to vote, endowed to us by our Creator, along with: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Amen.

And wouldn’t you know it, all those in-person Sunday services have already been canceled for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19… but this is what services looked like last week:

“Group meditation is a form of worship,” Jacobs told me last night. Nothing wrong with that.

The beauty of this church is that all members — and anyone can be a member — can simply tell Tennessee officials their religion considers Election Day a holiday, therefore they need an absentee ballot. (What are Republicans going to do; Get in the way of religious liberty?!)

The current list of “holidays” on the church’s website include the day of Tennessee’s primary, Election Day, and the entirety of the early voting periods for both of those elections. The holidays will change in the future.

Jacobs also told me he’s not simply trolling. He believes voting is an inalienable right, to quote the Declaration of Independence, so why not use that as the basis for a church? Doesn’t the same document make a reference to our “Creator,” anyway?

Jacobs said he really is planning in-person services in the future, the nature of which he’s still trying to figure out, but he imagines they would involve reflecting on voter suppression and corruption and having discussions about those topics.

He said hundreds of people have already signed up as members and he has “ministers” in half the states, meaning people who want to take on a leadership role.

And before anyone accuses him of scamming people, unlike other churches, this one doesn’t want your money.

The Church of Universal Suffrage will never ask for or accept any donation. We ask that you donate to a local charity of your choice instead.

The church doesn’t care what charity anyone donates to, but there is a link on the website to one that helps kids with cancer.

Even if you think this is a form of satire, it’s not all that different from John Oliver‘s “Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption” (which was formed to show the flimsiness of the IRS’ definition of a church) or the Universal Life Church (which helps people get “ordained” so they can perform a wedding ceremony in states that limit that role to religious leaders). There’s a point to it.

The church reveals a truth about our broken elections: that in order to make sure everyone can participate, it may require us to game the system. Because when the system is rigged, some cleverness can provide temporary relief until more progressive politicians can mend the law.

This church is clever. I wish we didn’t need it at all, but I’m glad it’s here. You can become a member or minister using this link.


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