Chicago Sun-Times: Pastor's Remarks Spur Relocation of Voting Sites

On Wednesday, Cook County election officials moved five polling sites out of an Orland Park church because of controversial comments made by that church’s pastor.

On Friday, Chicago election officials followed, moving three polling sites out of a Chicago church run by the same pastor.

Ashburn Baptist Church, near 83rd and Kedzie, won’t be the polling site for three 18th Ward precincts this year, Chicago Board of Elections spokesman Tom Leach said. Though a new polling site hasn’t been selected yet for the Nov. 2 general election, he said board members were unanimous in deciding to move to a new site.

“Our guarantee to voters, which we post at every polling place, is that they be allowed to cast a ballot in a non-disruptive atmosphere, free of interference,” Leach said. “It’s hard enough to get people to come to the polls, but if they’re intimidated or feel they’re not welcome at the poll, or where there’s a hint of prejudice, we’ve got to do something about that.”

Leach said the city received no complaints about the Rev. Vernon Lyons or his Chicago church, which is in contrast to the Ashburn Baptist Church that Lyons runs at 15401 Wolf Rd. in Orland Park.

Lyons led an unsuccessful effort to block a mosque from coming to Orland Park, and in that debate, he said Muslims are either involved in terrorism or are financial supporters of it. Some Muslims who vote at polling sites in Lyons’ church told county Clerk David Orr they’d be uncomfortable there, given Lyons’ comments, and Orr moved the polls to nearby public buildings.

Leach said moving the three Chicago polling sites will impact about 1,600 registered voters, all of whom will be notified of a new site.

Yasser Tabbara, director of Chicago’s Council on American Islamic Relations, praised the moves by Orr and Leach, but lamented the need to make such moves.

“It’s like when African-Americans got the right to vote but then had to go in buildings saying ‘whites only,'” Tabbara said. “But I am glad the board fulfilled their duty and are making sure that polling places are friendly environments for the entire population.”

copyright © 2004,