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Pastors To Keep Peace At Cleveland Area Polls Election Day

Pastors and other faith leaders will be at polls across Ohio, including the Cleveland area on Election day. Rev. Beth Westphal will work in Toledo as a peacekeeper on Nov. 3. [Lisa Ryan / Zoom]
Rev. Beth Westphal will be at the polls as a peacekeeper in Toledo. [Lisa Ryan / Zoom]

Many are concerned there will be tension at polling places on Election Day, with the possibility of long lines, disagreements over politics or COVID-19 masks, and President Donald Trump's calls for his supporters to "watch" the polls.

That’s why some faith leaders will also be out at the polls in Cuyahoga County, and across Ohio, Tuesday to help keep the peace.

There will be about 22 volunteers in Cuyahoga County on Tuesday, primarily religious leaders and social workers.

The volunteers are called peacekeepers, and they have received de-escalation training as part of a statewide effort to use clergy on Election day to help keep the mediate problems at polling locations.

Rev. Joan Van Becelaere, along with Rev. Dr. Susan Smith, helped organize and train the more than 90 volunteers across the state.

“I'm hoping that all these clergy hanging around in stoles and collars will encourage people not to be stupid,” Van Becelaere said.

The peacekeepers will be sent to so-called "hot spots," places where calls are coming into the voting rights hotline, and there are reports that tensions are high, she said.

"They will be there, and people will see them and say, ‘You know, maybe I think twice about yelling these racial slurs out to somebody," she said.

Lutheran Reverend Beth Westphal will serve as a peacekeeper in Toledo, and she hopes things remain peaceful.

“My daily prayer is that I’m not needed and that things remain calm,” Westphal said.

In addition to being a poll peacekeeper, Westphal signed a letter that affirms faith leaders’ commitment to fair and safe elections.

Many other faith leaders from across the country signed the letter, including rabbis, bishops, nuns, and pastors from varying religions, she said.

Rev. Dr. Valerie Bridgeman, of the Methodist Theological School in Delaware, Ohio, is one of the faith leaders who signed the letter.

Bridgeman said she is worried about people having guns and threatening voters, disagreements about politics, or people fighting about wearing COVID masks, she said.

“It’s happening at grocery stores, so I certainly imagine it will happen in a voting line,” she said.

She hopes she is wrong, but Bridgeman is prepared for the worst, she said.

People who voted early might have already seen the volunteers in religious attire at polling places, assisting poll monitors.

lisa.ryan@ideastream.org | 216-916-6158