At least three Catholic communities opened their doors to both democracy and community this election by turning their parish halls into polling places. Over a four-day period, hundreds of people were expected to cast their votes at Our Lady of Hope in San Bernardino, Our Lady of the Valley in Hemet and St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Needles. The pastors said they wanted their parishes to play an active role in the electoral process.
“The church recognizes that politics are a human endeavor and wherever there’s a human endeavor, it’s important the Church guides and leads by example,” explained Father Manuel Cardoza, pastor of Our Lady of Hope. “To open up our parish is such a good way to do that.”
Father Anthony Bui, pastor of St. Ann’s, felt that his parish could be a symbol of faith and faithful citizenship.
“For the community we represent Christ. We spread out love and hope and peace and justice,” said Fr. Bui. “We can do that through our spiritual life and through faithful citizenship.”
While parishes provided the space, the Registrar of Voters from each county provided the voting machines and poll workers. With the COVID-19 pandemic underway, elaborate health measures were also implemented. Guidelines included safely spacing the voters, the voting machines and making face masks available to those who needed them. The diocese stressed that the safety burden was entirely on the Registrar of Voters….
Still, that wasn’t enough for some parishes. Gallant noted fewer churches participated this year largely due to the coronavirus. Another concern this election cycle was the potential of protesters and unofficial/self-appointed poll watchers. Local deputies were scheduled to patrol polling sites while election volunteers were trained in de-escalation techniques. Fr. Cardoza proclaimed that for the first time ever, he was concerned about voter intimidation and said he was prepared to ask any troublemakers to leave.