On Sunday mornings in black churches across Georgia this October, congregants will gather like they always to do, to pray and worship together. But in the weeks preceding the November 6 election, they’ll be doing something a little bit different: voting by mail, together.
At Pulse Church in downtown Atlanta, pastor Billy M. Honor plans to preach a sermon about civic engagement on October 28. The scripture text he has chosen is Isaiah 56:8, which asks, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”
“We’ll be talking about voting, the sacred act of voting, how citizenship is a God-given right,” Honor says. “We best exercise that right when we participate in that project.”
After that, churchgoers will take out the absentee ballots they ordered earlier in the month and cast their votes alongside each other. “And then we’ll pray, we’ll pray over them,” Honor says.
Pulse Church is one of approximately 800 to 1,100 black churches in Georgia participating in a statewide vote-by-mail campaign this fall, the first of its kind. The initiative is being co-sponsored by the three largest Methodist bodies in Georgia—African Methodist Episcopal, Christian Methodist Episcopal, and African Methodist Episcopal Zion. It’s led by the New Georgia Project, a nonprofit founded in 2014 by Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
Black churches have long played a critical role in politics, particularly in the civil-rights movement. But wide-scale voter-turnout efforts have historically been dominated by mostly white evangelical congregations motivated by single issues such as abortion. In 2014 midterm elections, for instance, white evangelicals made up a disproportionate share of the electorate across the South. This effort seeks to counterbalance that trend.
In the first weeks of the campaign, congregations will request their absentee ballots together. Then, on a following Sunday, they’ll bring those ballots to church and vote together. At many churches, including Honor’s, leaders will gather congregants’ ballots and mail them off in bulk. At others, congregants will march to a local mailbox together to mimic the act of going to the polls. Some churches will pass out stickers or play music to mark the occasion.
The AME church, which accounts for approximately 500 of those congregations, aims to get 80 percent of its congregants to vote before Election Day, according to Bishop Reginald Jackson. “Our task is to build God’s kingdom on earth and to elect candidates who are in sync with us,” says Jackson. “Voting is an act of faith and its irresponsible for you not to exercise your right to vote.”