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More than 20% of Michigan’s polling places are houses of worship. But that could be banned under a GOP voting plan. “None of this was ever about securing the vote.”

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich.—Louise R. Ott is worried, she says. 

The pastor at Congregational Church of Birmingham UCC worries about the family that lives in a rental home. The family that stacks bales of straw around their rural home during the winter, a last-ditch effort to stay warm. 

She says she’s worried about the family of four that has one vehicle between them to navigate between jobs and home. 

She worries, she says, that they will lose out on their opportunity to vote in upcoming elections based on their circumstances if an initiative launched by Michigan Republicans is passed by state legislators

“Everyone should get to vote,” Ott told The ‘Gander in a phone interview. “No one’s vote should depend on, ‘Can I get there?’”

The new “Secure MI Vote” initiative would require voters to show an identification card or social security number in order to vote. But beyond that, it would also change voting for thousands of Michigan voters by essentially prohibiting voting at churches and other houses of worship. 

“It’s not about securing the vote, none of this was ever about securing the vote,” says Ott. Prior to moving to the Bloomfield Hills area had previously served in Peck, a Sanilac County community with fewer than 1,000 residents that Ott describes the community as “next to nowhere.” 

“It’s about limiting the vote.”

RELATED: ‘People Have Fought Wars for This:’ Clerks Respond to Republicans’ Plan Banning Voting in Churches

‘All of God’s Children’—Except Voters

Republicans have talked about the Secure MI Vote initiative as a proposal that would protect voting, but it only shows signs of disenfranchising voters. The initiative includes language that specifies that local clerks cannot be donated buildings for use as polling places on Election Day. 

Instead, those clerks would have to reach a little deeper into their already shallow budgets for funds to pay for these locations. 

In many places, clerks wonder where that funding exists. There also remains concern over how much these buildings would cost for use. 

“You have to understand, everything about elections is proportional,” said Mary Clark, the clerk in Michigan’s Delta Township. “So, a huge jurisdiction that has a bigger budget is going to have a bigger hit. A small jurisdiction that has a minimal budget is going to be hit equally hard, if not harder.”

Of the more than 1,300 communities that were home to polling places in 2020, nearly 20% would lose some of all of their voting locations under the initiative, according to a recently released report by Progress Michigan

While that may be without issue in some communities where there is no shortage of places to house polling locations, smaller communities would be disproportionately affected. 

Some rural communities, such as Hazelton Township in Shiawassee County and Mussey Township in St. Clair County, each only had one polling place in 2020. And those polling places? Churches. 

It’s also an issue in cities like Battle Creek and Troy, where there were more overall polling places but churches and houses of worship were used heavily. Nine of Battle Creek’s 11 polling places, and 16 of Troy’s 18 polling places, were houses of worship in 2020.

READ MORE: Over 60 Michigan Faith Leader Pen Open Letter Criticizing Proposal to Ban Voting at Churches

Preaching to the Choir

Ott wonders what the motivation behind the Secure MI Vote initiative is. She says it isn’t about securing the vote, arguing it does the exact opposite. And she’s not alone. 

More than 60 faith leaders from around Michigan in November signed an open letter addressed to voters and Michigan lawmakers criticizing the initiative.

“Places of worship have a long and rich history of being hubs of community activity that includes serving as polling places for cities and townships across Michigan,” the faith leaders wrote in the note. “The idea that faith leaders would be forced to charge clerks, who already operate on tight budgets, for the use of their space, or be blocked as accessible polling locations is unconscionable and would go against the helpful role our congregations and facilities play in our communities.”

Ott mirrors those sentiments, arguing that churches should be open to everyone—especially voters. 

“Most mainline congregations believe their buildings are meant to be open to all of God’s people,” she said. “Our building is a public sphere. Everyone should be welcome.”

Ott believes that the impact felt by the initiative were it to pass would be drastic, disenfranchising and confusing voters. She said she signed the letter because she felt strongly about the negative impact of the petition. 

She also said she worried about rural families that would have been able to vote when their local church was their polling spot, but might not be able to if the site becomes a place farther down the road. 

“Our church is run by people of this community for people of this community,” Ott says. “That includes voters.”