Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale is used to diffusing tense situations from her time as a chaplain in a federal prison. This year, she’s hoping to bring the skills she learned working with prison inmates to the polls.
“I see my role very similar here, in terms of bringing peace and calm to the situation and helping people resolve their issues as carefully as possible,” Hale, who is 68 years old, told CNN.
Hale and hundreds of other members of the clergy have been trained as part of a nonpartisan initiative called Lawyers and Collars to act as “poll chaplains” in nine battleground states. Hale will act as a poll chaplain in Georgia, a state that was at the center of a debate over voter suppression during the 2018 midterms.
In a tumultuous election year in which there are heightened fears about voter intimidation and suppression, these poll chaplains hope to ensure that every vote gets counted. They have been trained to provide information to voters about their rights, and deescalate any conflicts that may arise at polling locations.
“In Georgia in particular, we have some real concerns about voter intimidation and voter suppression,” Hale said. “Some of these can be handled easily, you know, people not having the right ID, or something of that nature.”
Hale added: “So to be a poll chaplain is to be there as a clergy person giving people, in most instances, comfort, because they trust clergy people, and letting them know that there is someone there to support and help them. We're not there to get in the way of the process at all.”
Hale is the founder and senior pastor of the Ray of Hope Christian Church, which doubles as her polling location. Prior to joining this church, Hale said she was the first woman to serve in an all-male federal prison as a chaplain in North Carolina.
In addition to the poll chaplains, the group set up a hotline to make lawyers available to identify and address any voting irregularities and intimidation that may occur throughout the voting process.
Around the US: Lawyers and Collars is the product of a partnership between Sojourners, Skinner Leadership Institute, and the National African American Clergy Network. The lawyers and poll chaplains will be located throughout Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Bishop Claude Alexander, a poll chaplain and pastor in Charlotte, North Carolina, told CNN, “We are still having incidences of suppression, where people are being intimidated, and they are actually being told, ‘Go away, you cannot vote here.’ And therefore, there has to be some counter-presence that helps redirect and then give assurance to those individuals.”