The report — which includes the full text of a policy statement adopted by the 218th General Assembly of the PC(USA) in June in San Jose, Calif. — is being sent to all members of the U.S. Congress, as well as to state election officials and congregations in state capitals that are most likely to contain church members involved in the electoral process.
The report expresses concern for the historically low rate of voting in the United States and proposes a range of reforms designed to spur greater voter turnout. “Low voter participation in U.S. elections weakens the health of American democracy,” says the study.
It recommendations seek to “increase voter participation,” “to ensure equality and fairness,” “to provide for greater accountability,” and “to renew and broaden democratic practice.”
Specifically, as summarized in a cover letter by Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the General Assembly, the resolution calls for:
– extension of the amended Voting Rights Act of 1965 and opposes all measures that would disenfranchise voters on the basis of race or other condition;
– re-enfranchisement of felons who have paid their debt to society and “full voting rights” for the District of Columbia;
– verifiability of voting machine totals, as well as “best practices” in the administration of elections;
opposition to “caging,” “purging lists,” special ID requirements, and other arbitrary challenges and intimidation of voters;
– public funding and lobbying restrictions designed to curb favoritism and conflicts of interest;
– efforts to rotate primaries and deal with consequences of the Electoral College, such as a national popular vote based in an affirmative right to vote; and
– other reforms such as “instant run-off voting” and “proportional voting,” a voting holiday or weekend voting, non-partisan election commissions, universal voter registration, and more.”
“Through such statements, the General Assembly speaks to both the church itself and to the larger society in line with the Reformed Christian tradition of public responsibility described in the document,” said ACSWP Coordinator Christian Iosso.
“The democratic — small d — ethos of our Church pervades this document,’ Parsons states in his cover letter. “Our church is named for presbyters, or elders, elected by congregations to serve on governing councils. Our democratic ethos, in other words, is part of our own life as a body of Christians at every level.”
The 217th General Assembly in 2006 voiced continuing concern over the confused 2000 presidential voting in Florida, including voting machine errors and the implementation of the Voting Rights Act. The Assembly authorized a study and the ACSWP assembled a team that included three political scientists, three lawyers, two ethicists, a pastor, an educator, and one former election official. Their report, “Lift Every Voice”, was approved by this year’s Assembly.
The report states: “Accountability is demanded of every political figure in the Bible story. Because of sin in human personal and social life, transparency and the enforcement of principles of equality and liberty are required as a condition of a fair common life. Both citizens and officials are accountable for their custody of the democratic-representative process. To deny anyone a fair vote is a sin.
“Reinhold Niebuhr’s aphorism that ‘[human] capacity for justice makes democracy possible but [human] capacity for injustice makes democracy necessary’ is a fair summary of the possibilities of our political life as we strive to make it as participatory, just, and accountable as possible.”
The full text of Lift Every Voice is posted on the ACSWP Web site. Questions and comments can be directed to Iosso by e-mail [[email protected]] by phone at (800) 728-7228, ext. 5814; or to ACSWP Associate Belinda Curry by e-mail [[email protected]] or by phone at (800) 728-7228, ext. 5813.
The full text of the cover letter to Members of Congress accompanying the report, dated Oct. 27:
Dear Senators and Representatives:
We enclose a copy of the resolution, Lift Every Voice: Democracy, Voting Rights, and Electoral Reform, adopted this year by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s General Assembly in San Jose, California. This booklet, including its cover, is also available online [www.pcusa.org/acswp]. We are sharing it with State election commissions and particularly with the congregations of our church located in every state capital.
We send it to you on the eve of our general election, understanding that you and your staffs will be campaigning hard right up to Election Day. This resolution is not simply for this November 4: it is for the full enfranchisement of U.S. citizens, a larger and longer-term task that we hope you will steadily support. At this moment, we want to show our own support for that vision and encourage all elected officials to honor that franchise for all citizens. And for those of religious faith, we want to indicate at this key time that thoughtful Christians have reflected prayerfully on the issues of politics that particularly face you and your staff.
This resolution includes a summary of Reformed Christian teaching on faith and politics and a Biblical grounding for that teaching. It refers back to a longer policy developed in 1983 and other statements of the General Assembly: we have addressed the government since 1787! Thus its study section has an adult education purpose, as do all church policy statements, as well as an awareness of the Civil Rights struggle behind so much good election law.
Thus this resolution encourages the Senate and the House of Representatives to make the election process as welcoming and participatory as possible. This is a timely concern in many places. The resolution makes practical recommendations so that faith and practice can go together. There are also some elements for longer-term study that could improve our system technologically as well as legislatively.
A letter inside the cover from our church’s highest elected official, Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons, summarizes some of these recommendations. We hope that when time permits, as you reflect on the electoral processes strengths and weaknesses, this resolution may give some help to you in the process of reform. Should you have comments or questions about this document please contact the Presbyterian Washington Office at (202) 543-1126.