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Faith Leaders Across Georgia Head To Polls To Support Voters

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to head now to Georgia, where more than 3.5 million people have already cast their ballots. State election officials say that number could exceed 6 million by the end of Election Day. That would be a record turnout for a state that has made voting for many a challenge.

BILLY MICHAEL HONOR: Waiting in line has become a real thing here in Georgia in terms of how it is. We understand the persistence that it takes to participate in the democratic process.

MARTIN: That is Billy Michael Honor. He's a minister in Atlanta.

HONOR: Once you stand in the line after about three hours, then your mentality changes from it's not only that you want to vote but it's also like, well, I've already stood here. I'm going to see this through. Like, I'm going to stand in this line however long it takes so that it's sort of like mission accomplished.

MARTIN: This year, Honor and more than 100 other faith leaders will fan out across the state, serving as poll or precinct chaplains, members of the clergy who will stand by to provide voters with snacks and water. It's an effort led by the New Georgia Project, a nonpartisan group that got involved when Billy Michael Honor, the director of faith organizing, heard from another Atlanta clergyperson, Martha Simmons.

MARTHA SIMMONS: It was my sense that clergy needed to do more than, say from their pulpits, go out and vote or go to polling places, vote themselves and put on a sticker. I thought that for this election, something extra would be needed.

MARTIN: That something extra was inspired in part by President Trump when, during the first presidential debate, he wouldn't condemn white supremacist groups and, according to Reverend Honor, when he told extremist group The Proud Boys to stand back and stand by.

HONOR: The next day, we had faith leaders reaching out and people of faith reaching out pretty much all day (laughter) because I think in their minds, this was an invitation for those of us who consider ourselves nonpartisan participators in the civic process to show up and be, if nothing else, a presence of peace and reason for voters who might desperately need that.

MARTIN: And while the clergy don't expect things to go wrong, they say this is a unique election year and anything can happen.

SIMMONS: If their aim is to intimidate, our aim is to encourage people to vote anyway. We're not going to tolerate intimidation.

MARTIN: Despite the threat of intimidation on Tuesday, Reverend Simmons expects long lines and determined voters, which she finds bittersweet.

SIMMONS: When I see people just go and vote, that delights me. And it angers me that in the United States in 2020, people are still having to stand in three-, four- and five-hour lines when we know we could make this easier. But states are choosing to make it harder.

MARTIN: In spite of the challenges of voting this year, some Atlanta faith leaders say they're drawn to the work for spiritual reasons, like Rabbi Lydia Medwin, who will also be at the polls on Tuesday.

LYDIA MEDWIN: In the Jewish tradition, like many of the Abrahamic traditions, we believe that each person is made in the divine image, each person really does count. And when we're talking about the ways in which we structure society, in that respect, every person gets the chance to lend their own vision to the larger vision of the future we're going to create together.

MARTIN: That was Rabbi Lydia Medwin, one of more than 100 faith leaders planning to provide a, quote-unquote, "presence of peace" at the polls in Georgia next week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.