Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Defeat of Fayetteville's Ordinance Prohibiting Anti-LGBT Discrimination: Was it Fair to Have Polling Places in Churches?

Note:  The following is more a research paper than a blog entry. For easier reading, the whole paper, about 20 pages, can be downloaded from the following:


Voters in Fayetteville, Arkansas repealed the city’s “Civil Rights Administration” ordinance at a referendum on December 9, 2014.  The ordinance had been approved by Fayetteville’s city council at a meeting on August 19th that ended in the early hours of August 20th. The purpose of ordinance 5703 was to protect “the right of all persons to be free from discrimination based on real or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, age, gender, gender identity, gender expression, familial status, marital status, socioeconomic background, religion, sexual orientation, disability and veteran status” to ensure equal access to employment, housing, and public accommodations.[1]

This ordinance was adapted from one drafted by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a Washington-based advocacy group for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) people.[2] In addition to prohibiting discrimination, it called for designation of a city civil rights administrator to investigate discrimination complaints and refer them, if needed, to the city prosecutor’s office. The ordinance specified that violators could be fined up to $500 if convicted of violating its provisions. It applied to businesses in the city employing five or more people and to contractors doing business with Fayetteville. Similar ordinances have been enacted in about 200 cities in 18 states. None had been passed in Arkansas.[3] 

Technically, ordinance 5703 would have added chapter 119, titled “Civil Rights Administration,” to the city code, and this chapter would have provided the protections and their administration. However, chapter 119 never became part of the code because a group calling itself “Repeal 119” collected enough signatures to require a vote on whether ordinance 5703 should be repealed. The referendum title was: “Repeal, in its entirety, Ordinance No. 5703 which enacted Chapter 119 of the Fayetteville, Arkansas city code.” A “yes” vote was to repeal the ordinance and stop the enactment of Chapter 119.

Because a majority of Fayetteville voters voted “yes,” ordinance 5703 was repealed and chapter 119 was never implemented. Of the 14,574 citizens who voted on the issue, 7,527 of them (51.6%) supported repeal and 7,047 (48.4%) voted against repeal. The margin of victory for the repeal supporters was 480 votes.

This narrow margin is significant because of the extraordinary circumstances of the referendum: 16 of the city’s 17 polling places were in church buildings, sites associated with ministers and religious spokespersons who led the effort to repeal ordinance 5703. These spokespersons asserted that the ordinance was an attack on religion and it would unleash sexual predators to prey on women and children in publicly accessible bathrooms. They, including several who live elsewhere, exhorted Fayetteville ministers to take urgent action to get voters to the polls to stop an ordinance that would “restrict religious freedom” and “degrade morality.”

When Election Day came, almost all voters cast their votes that day at polling sites located in the buildings of organizations that had been in the forefront of the campaign to repeal the ordinance. Did the fact that almost all of the polling places on December 9th were in churches have an effect on the outcome of the election? Some data suggest, but do not prove, that it did. If it did have even a small effect, influencing just a few people to vote for repeal of the ordinance, that number might have been sufficient to swing the election. The ordinance would not have been repealed if 241 election-day voters had voted to reject the repeal instead of supporting it.

The Church-Based Campaign for Repeal

The campaign to repeal ordinance 5703, cancelling implementation of Chapter 119, was conducted largely by Repeal 119, a church- and religion-dominated “ballot question committee.”[4] According to Repeal 119’s website, more than half of the churches in Fayetteville supported repeal of the ordinance. Apparently, the remaining Fayetteville churches did not take a public position on the issue, except that the clergy of three churches, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, First United Presbyterian Church, and Good Shepard Lutheran Church, spoke against the repeal of 119.[5]

Several churches and religious organizations donated money to Repeal 119 to help pay for its campaign.  Contributors included Baldwin Baptist Church ($1,000), Rocky Beach Baptist Church, Rogers ($215), Lighthouse Baptist Church, St. Paul ($500), Pathway Baptist Church ($500), Trinity Fellowship Rolling Hills ($500), and Eastside Baptist Church ($300).[5]  Also, Repeal 119 received a $6,000 contribution from an organization called Wallbuilders that leads efforts to rewrite American history based on their evangelical beliefs. (see )

Duncan Campbell and Wendy Campbell
From the Northwest Arkansas Times, Nov. 30, 2014, p. 1a 

The president of the Repeal 119 campaign organization was a minister, Duncan Campbell, and his wife Wendy Campbell was secretary of the organization. The two have what they call “apostolic and prophetic ministries.”  According to their website:

As a dynamic Apostolic and Prophetic team, Duncan and Wendy minister by preaching, teaching, and demonstrating the presence of God. Preparing the Bride for her wedding march up to Zion and revealing the Bridegroom is at the core of what Duncan and Wendy are all about. From evangelistic and healing campaigns and creative arts worship and prophetic conferences to the streets of cities around the world the Campbell's are dedicated to bring people the joy of knowing God and knowing His plan for their lives.
During meetings it is common to experience miracles, healings, freedom and fresh anointing- discovering how to praise God with all heart, mind, soul, and strength. They have an unending love and devotion for the Messiah and a vision to see people from every nation released into the presence of God. (from website )

Explaining his personal beliefs, Duncan Campbell said his conscience tells him homosexuality is a sin, like adultery. He said, “Many people who study the Bible believe it’s unbiblical behavior.”[6]

Duncan Campbell and Travis Story at Repeal 119 Victory Party
From Northwest Arkansas Times, December 10, 2014, p. 1a

The attorney for Repeal 119 was Travis Story whose firm donated $16,590 in legal fees to it.[7] Story  graduated from Liberty University’s School of Law. Liberty is a fundamentalist Christian university founded by Jerry Falwell. According to his law firm’s website, Story is a member of and does volunteer work at Cross Church, a megachurch based in Springdale (with branches in other locations, including Fayetteville) that is headed by Ronnie Floyd, at present president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Floyd strongly supported repeal of 119. His views were distributed in a blog entry dated December 8th on his personal blog (see ; that entry was reprinted on the same day in the blog of the Biblical Recorder:

The Repeal 119 campaign focused on three assertions that were included in its half-page advertisement in the December 7th edition of the Northwest Arkansas Times (NWAT):  (1) This law is dangerous for people of faith, (2) This law is dangerous for women and children, and (3) This law is dangerous for business. The third argument, concerning the putative impacts of the ordinances on businesses, echoed the claims of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce.[8] The first and second claims, addressing religious and “moral” concerns, were central to Repeal 119’s campaign.

               “Dangerous to People of Faith

As spokespersons for Repeal 119, the Campbells had much to say about it.  Wendy Campbell asked, “Why do they want to persecute the church….?”[9]  And in a video on the Repeal 119 website, Duncan Campbell claimed that the ordinance would “allow the city to dictate to a church, to ministers, and to believers who they must hire for certain positions they deem secular, who must serve same sex ceremonies, and there are no stated exceptions in the law for ministers.”

In its December 7th advertisement in the Northwest Arkansas Times, Repeal 119 stated that the law “is dangerous for people of faith,” because:   
This ordinance limits the scope of both free speech and the free practice of religion guaranteed to us by the U.S. and Arkansas Constitutions. It goes as far as to dictate the criteria by which churches hire their own staff. It requires pastors, rabbis, and imams to perform same sex ceremonies unless they can “prove” they are not being discriminatory; otherwise they will face CRIMINAL charges….This does NOT protect religious rights – it puts believers at great risk.
Repeal 119 Advertisement
Northwest Ark. Times, Dec. 7, 2014, p 3a

In his personal blog, Ronnie Floyd elaborated on the putative effects of the ordinance on religious freedom:

(1) Christian small-business owners could be fined or even face jail time if they refuse services to one of this new protected ‘class’. Just like the recent episode with a baker in Colorado, if someone refused to bake a cake for a same sex wedding because it violated the business owner’s conscious or religious view, they would now be violating the law.

(3) Churches must allow a biological man, who identifies himself as a woman, to use the women’s restroom, and it would be an illegal act for the church to stop this use.

(4) Churches now must hire a person who is not of the same belief as the church for any job except a pastor, such as a secretary or custodian.

(5) Pastors face fines and potential jail time if they refuse to marry a gay couple. These fines could reach $8,500 in the first 30 days, and if not paid, they could be put in jail.

               Dangerous for Women and Children

While Repeal 119’s assertion that the ordinance would infringe on religious freedoms was an important part of its campaign, another claim was featured even more prominently in its message, perhaps because it was more a more effective way to alarm and frighten voters. In its December 7th newspaper advertisement, Repeal 119 stated that the ordinance was “dangerous for women and children” because it would enable men who said they were transgender to use women’s bathrooms, dressing rooms, and locker rooms.
Repeal 119 Advertisement
Northwest Ark. Times, Dec. 7, 2014, p. 3a

Even before the ordinance was passed, Jeremy Flanagan, pastor of Pathway Baptist Church on Mount Comfort Road in Fayetteville, complained that under this ordinance, a man could claim to be a woman in an effort to gain entry to women’s bathrooms or changing areas. He said the ordinance “gives anyone claiming to be transgender the right to choose which public locker room, dressing room, bathroom or other previously gender-specific area they wish to use. If anyone questions them or refuses to let them use the space of their choice, that individual could be held criminally liable. This new, special privilege opens a door for sexual predators to claim being transgender in order to access these private areas.”[10]

About the same time as Flanagan was making his assertions, Michelle Duggar, a Springdale resident who apparently is famous because of the number of children she has borne and a cable reality show featuring her Christian family, was making robocalls to Fayetteville households. Her message was this:
Hello, this is Michelle Duggar. I’m calling to inform you of some shocking news that would affect the safety of Northwest Arkansas women and children. The Fayetteville City Council is voting on an ordinance this Tuesday night that would allow men — yes, I said men — to use women’s and girls’ restrooms, locker rooms, showers, sleeping areas and other areas that are designated for females only. I don’t believe the citizens of Fayetteville would want males with past child predator convictions that claim they are female to have a legal right to enter private areas reserved for women and girls. I doubt that Fayetteville parents would stand for a law that would endanger their daughters or allow them to be traumatized by a man joining them in their private space. We should never place the preference of an adult over the safety and innocence of a child. Parents, who do you want undressing next to your daughter at the public swimming pool’s private changing area?"
Echoing these assertions, Duncan Campbell, in a video on the Repeal 119 website, said that the ordinance “legalizes indecent exposure for transgender men in women’s locker rooms, showers and bathrooms because under the new law they would be considered women.” He continued, “If you refuse to let a man enter a woman’s locker room at your local gym, even if your wife or daughter was in the locker room taking a shower, you become a criminal.”

               Rise Up and Send a Clear and Compelling Message

Another argument for repeal, though not featured in Repeal 119 advertisements, was that its defeat would help stop the LGBT movement’s broader efforts to gain civil rights protections.  Many repeal supporters came from outside Fayetteville with the message that the city had the chance to be the first local government to reject the type of ordinance some called a SOGI [Sexual Orientation Gender Identity] law. They apparently not only viewed Fayetteville as one of many battles to be fought against advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights, but most were also contemptuous of the idea that such people needed or deserved protection. They urged ministers to fully use their pulpits and positions to get Fayetteville voters to take a “historic” stand.

One repeal supporter who spoke in Fayetteville was David Welch, director of the Houston Area Pastor Council. In his remarks in a video message on the Repeal 119 website, he made clear what he and other religious leaders believed was at stake in the referendum.  He called the ordinance “a direct assault against the foundational principles that this nation was built on.” He continued, “When we are battling over an ordinance that says a male is not a male and female is not a female, and we can decide our own genders, we are at the last stage of cultural degradation. We have to turn this thing around.”

He urged pastors to act:
Between now and next Tuesday (December 9th), every pastor in this city who has any commitment to their calling or the word of God, please step forward and use every means at your disposal in your church – electronically and personally – to communicate with every voter  that this is “show up time.”… The opportunity for the city of Fayetteville, right now, to be the first city in America to stop and defeat one of these egregious ordinances is literally a historic moment that cannot be described adequately.
In his blog, Ronnie Floyd, president of Southern Baptist Conference, added to the exhortation to Fayetteville voters to strike down the ordinance. He wrote:
This is the nation’s current battleground on which to stand for religious freedom. Fayetteville, please rise up and send a clear and compelling message to all those propagating this agenda – that the people of Fayetteville will stand up and protect our religious freedoms. Fayetteville is the first city to get this issue on a public ballot, and the first city with a chance to repeal this ordinance. This is the chance for Fayetteville to make a national impact by becoming the first city to reject this offensive SOGI [Sexual Orientation Gender Identity] law. (See
Another minister from San Antonio, Charles Flowers, made a similar plea to voters:
It is a privilege to be here in Fayetteville to help the body of Christ confront this ordinance that so restricts freedoms and so compromises safety and so degrades morality….I plead with all of you listening to get to the polls and vote your biblical convictions.[11]
A Texas-based organization, the National Black Robe Regiment (NBRR) wrote about the referendum on its website. The NBRR is “a network of national and local pastors and pastor groups that equips and empowers pastors to engage in their Biblical and historical role to stand boldly for righteousness and transform society through spiritual and cultural engagement.” It supported the repeal effort and made the following observations in an article titled, “Fayetteville, Arkansas Pastors Rally to Repeal Anti-Religious Freedom Ordinance”:
[T]he goal [of the ordinance] is to punish individuals and businesses that do not override their deeply held Biblical convictions to affirm special rights for homosexuals….
The churches in Fayetteville are stepping up. They are making phone calls, walking blocks and mobilizing pastors and churches to educate their congregants about the importance of voting on December 9. There is unprecedented unity and cooperation between Black, white and Hispanic pastors in Fayetteville as well as pro-family organizations across the nation, state and city. What happens in Fayetteville depends upon the involvement of pastors and churches in that city. And the efforts currently underway in Fayetteville need to be replicated across the nation in the more than 170 cities that have also passed SOGI ordinances that include penalties for dissenters.
These calls to battle for Fayetteville churches and ministers illustrate the primacy of the religion-based campaign for repeal of 119 as well as the motives and beliefs of many of the repeal supporters.[12] They sought to make all churches active advocates and partisans in the referendum campaign. It is not hard to imagine what ministers in Baptist Churches, and probably in many others, had to say about the ordinance on the Sunday before the referendum vote.

               Opposition to Repeal of 119

Opposition to the repeal of Chapter 119 was led by a “ballot question committee” called “Keep Fayetteville Fair.” Its president was Anne Shelley, executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Rape Crisis Center. This organization argued that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender residents of Fayetteville needed the same protections as provided by state and federal law against discrimination based on age, color, religion, national origin, and sex. (see )

From Northwest Arkansas Times, Nov. 30, 2104, p. 1a
The alderman who was the leading advocate for the ordinance, Matthew Perry, spoke often against repeal.  He summarized the argument against repeal as follows: “No one should be kicked out of their house. No one should be kicked out of a restaurant. Nobody in Fayetteville should lose a job because of who they are or who they love.”[13] He also argued:

All folks who work hard, pay their taxes, serve in our military, and contribute to our community deserve to be treated fairly under the law, including our gay and transgender neighbors. Freedom means freedom for everyone – it is wrong to treat people differently solely on they are or who they love. After all, everyone needs to be able to earn a living and provide for their families.”[14]

The Fairness group spent much of its efforts trying to refute the many assertions of the Repeal 119 group and its allies. They pointed out that the city council had passed an amendment to the ordinance that made it clear that ministers would not be forced to conduct gay marriages and that the city council had also amended the ordinance that would stop prohibit anyone “to enter any gender-segregated space for any unlawful purpose.”[15] In an op-ed piece in the NWAT on Nov. 30, Petty maintained that “all of the arguments of the opposition have either been debunked or are addressed by the ordinance.”

The two groups, Repeal 119 and Keep Fayetteville Fair, each collected and spent about $33,000. Repeal 119 received over $30,000 worth of nonmonetary donations; other pro-repeal expenditures by the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce and the Little Rock-based Family Council were not reported. Keep Fayetteville Fair received $166,080 in nonmonetary contributions from the Human Rights Campaign whose staff helped conduct the campaign against repeal of the ordinance.[17]

Church-Based Polling Places

While no one would suggest that churches and religious organizations did not have the right to actively support the repeal of 119, their deep involvement in the referendum created a strange and unsettling situation: a majority of Fayetteville churches actively supported repeal of the Civil Rights Administration ordinance AND their church buildings were used as polling sites. Because 16 of the city’s 17 polling places were in churches, almost all election-day voters had to travel to, enter, and vote in buildings of organizations that, as a whole, had actively taken a position on the issue.

Among the church-located polling places, one (Covenant Presbyterian Church) gave Repeal 119 office space to use as its headquarters. Three of the polling places were in Baptist Churches; as noted above the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Ronnie Floyd, was a zealous supporter of repealing 119.  At least one church took advantage of its location as a polling place to put up a sign at an entrance to its parking lot urging voters to vote to “Repeal 119.”[18] This sign was a legal distance (more than 100 feet) from its entrance, but was visible from polling place.

Polling Place at Trinity Fellowship, Rolling Hills Drive, Dec. 9, 2014
An Entry to the Polling Place is the Door Located Above the "r" in "December"

Aside from the obvious observation that it is strange that active partisans in the election hosted supposedly neutral polling places, other potential problems of using churches as polling places for votes on “moral” or religious issues are these:
* Some voters may be uncomfortable going into churches or into buildings associated with certain denominations or religions and thus may deterred from voting. For example, if a polling place were in a mosque or a temple, some Christians might be uneasy about voting, or even unwilling to vote, in those locations.[19] Similarly, non-religious or non-Christian voters may have qualms about going into church buildings to vote, especially if they know the churches have taken a public stance opposed to theirs.
In the Fayetteville case, the voters most likely to have no discomfort with, or have any doubts about, voting in polling places located in Protestant churches are the ones most likely to vote for repeal of 119.
* When going into churches to vote, voters are inevitably subjected to religious cues or stimuli – both subtle and not-so-subtle -- that may, often unconsciously, influence their voting behavior. The influence of these cues or stimuli has been called the “Polling Place Priming Effect.” The existence of such an effect has been found in the limited research done on the topic of how voting in polling places located in schools affect voting results. This research has shown that voters who vote in school-located polling places are more likely (compared to voters who vote in non-school locations) to vote for measures, such as tax increases and bond issues, that would benefit schools.
At present, research is inconclusive on the effects of voting in church-located polling places on vote results when issues are “moral” or religious. Priming theory suggests the existence of such an effect, and a few empirical and experimental research studies have found that some votes cast in churches on issues such as gay marriage were influenced by the setting. However, other empirical studies have found no such locational effect. (See a summary of research on this topic in appendix 1.) Until more and better research has been conducted on the topic, it is not possible to make a definitive claim that voting in a church-located polling place does or does not influence some voters.

Did Voting in Churches Affect the Outcome of the Fayetteville Referendum?   

For the Fayetteville referendum, voters had the option of voting early by going to the county courthouse to vote or by submitting absentee ballots by mail.  In all, roughly one-third of the voters (4,622) cast their votes during the week prior to Election Day. 

None of the early voters went to church-located polling places to vote. Neither did the people who voted on Election Day at the Yvonne Richardson Community Center Polling Place (525 persons). In all, the total number of voters who did not vote in polling places within church buildings was 5,147 persons. The other 9,427 voters, voted on Election Day in church buildings

The voting results differed greatly by location of polling place and by when people voted. Voters who voted in polling places in churches strongly supported repeal of the Civil Rights Administration ordinance: 56.7% voted for repeal and only 43.3% voted against it. In contrast, only 42.4% of the voters who did not vote in church-located polling places supported repeal while 57.6% voted against it. See table 1. 

Similarly, among voters who voted on Election Day, 55.3% supported repeal and 44.7% opposed it. Of the voters who voted early, casting their votes at the county courthouse or by mail, only 43.8% supported repeal and 56.2% opposed it. See table 2.

The 14.3 percentage point difference in support for repeal of 119 by voters in church-located polling places (56.7%) and by voters at non-church polling places (42.4%) suggests that voting in churches might have influenced how some people voted. If not, other good explanations must be found to account for the differences in vote results by church and non-church polling locations.

One possible alternative explanation is that the socio-economic characteristics (e.g., age, employment, and income) of voters opposing repeal made them find early voting more appealing than voting on Election Day, or perhaps they found it more necessary than election-day voters to vote early because of their work responsibilities. Another possible explanation is that perhaps some repeal opponents did not want to go to a church-located polling place to vote, so they voted early to avoid doing so; conversely, some repeal supporters might have preferred voting in church-located polling places, especially if the polling place was in their own church, so they waited to vote on Election Day.

Unfortunately, none of the explanations of voting result differences by location can be tested statistically because the voting data are incomplete. While the votes cast on Election Day were tabulated by the polling places (although not by precinct) of voters, the early votes were not. That is, early voters were not identified by the precinct in which they live, or by their polling place jurisdiction. Thus, it is not possible to determine by precinct or by polling place jurisdiction how many people voted or how the votes for and against repeal of 119 were distributed.

Table 1
Votes on Repeal of Ordinance 5703 (Chapter 119)
By Voters Who Voted in Church Buildings and Voters Who Did Not

Type of Voters
Votes For Repeal
Votes Against Repeal
Total Votes
Voted in Church Polling Places


Voted in Non-Church Polling Places




Table 2
Votes on Repeal of the Ordinance 5703 (Chapter 119)
By Early Voters and Election Day Voters

Type of Voter
Votes For Repeal
Votes Against Repeal
Total Votes
Election Day Voters


Early Voters*


All Voters


       *Includes 132 absentee ballots. All others are early votes in the County Courthouse

The problems with the data can be seen in table3. It lists the 17 polling places and shows for each: (1) the precincts within it, (2) the number of registered voters, (3) the number of voters who voted on Election Day, and (4) the percentage of voters who voted for repeal on Election Day.  These numbers are incomplete because the vote counts exclude voters living within polling place boundaries who voted early. Thus, we cannot determine accurately the total number of referendum votes cast by voters living in each polling place jurisdiction nor the percentage of voters living in each polling place jurisdiction who voted for repeal.

Table 3
Precincts, Number of Registered Voters, Referendum Vote on Election Day, and
Percentage Voting for Repeal on Election Day by Polling Place

Polling Place


No. of Registered Voters
Number Voting in the Referendum
Pct. Voting
for Repeal
Awakening (Baptist)
Baldwin C. of Christ
11, 47
Buckner Baptist
Central Methodist
4, 5, 36
Christ’s Church
1, 10, 15, 16
Christian Life Cathedral
14, 22, 37, 38, 41
Covenant Life (Presbyterian)
30, 32, 43, 46, 48
First Assembly
Mt. Comfort C. of Christ
2, 27, 31,33, 40
First Presbyterian
7, 29
Sang Baptist
2, 3, 26, 42
Sequoyah Methodist
17, 18
St. John’s Lutheran
19, 44
Trinity Fellowship
13, 14
Trinity Methodist
6, 30, 35, 39, 45
Wiggins Methodist
9, 24
Total Churches



Yvonne Richardson Center
8, 25

Total Polling Places


The vote results presented in table 3 show that, at least on election-day, votes for and against repeal varied greatly by where voters live within Fayetteville. At one extreme, 79.7 percent of election-day voters at the Awakening Baptist Church polling place (located along the northeast border of the city) supported repeal of 119. At the other extreme, only 21.4% of election-day voters at the Trinity Methodist Church polling place, which lies in the center of the city, voted to repeal the ordinance. In general, the greatest election-day support for the repeal came from precincts west of I-49 and on the eastern edges of the city. The strongest opposition came from the center of the city and areas to the north of it (see map in appendix 2).

Ultimately, without the complete voting results by polling place jurisdiction, which would have enabled some interesting statistical analysis of the votes, it is possible only to point out the huge difference in vote results for election-day voters who voted in churches and for all other voters. One plausible, but unprovable, explanation for at least part of the difference is that the locational effect influenced some votes. That is, some people who voted in church-located polling places for repeal may have voted against repeal if they had voted in a polling place not in a church. If 241 election-day voters did so, they provided the margin of victory for repeal supporters.  


The Washington County Election Commission, according to the local newspaper, received several complaints about the use of churches as polling places for the December 9th referendum.[22] Similar concern about this practice has been expressed in several other states.[23] The use of churches as polling places has even been challenged in court in a couple of states. However, so far, courts have not ruled against this practice.[24]

Using churches as polling places for the Fayetteville referendum seems especially problematic because of the involvement of churches in the effort to repeal ordinance 5703. Not only did a majority of local churches take a position on the issue, national religious leaders called on churches and ministers to convince voters to vote to repeal the ordinance. Also, several churches contributed money to the campaign supporting repeal and others provided assistance to the repeal campaign by providing office space or putting up campaign signs.

While the involvement of churches in the referendum campaign was appropriate, it seems in this situation it was inappropriate to use of churches as polling places. Given the nature of the issue and the referendum campaign, it is hard to see how on December 9th churches could be considered neutral places to vote.

The placement of polling places in buildings of organizations that have taken a public position on an issue raises three questions:
(1) Does the use of such polling places have an effect on vote results?
The Fayetteville vote showed a big difference in referendum vote results based on the location of polling places, with people who voted in church-located polling sites much more likely to favor repeal of the ordinance. One possible, but unproven, explanation is that a “polling place priming effect” influenced some voters at church-based polling places to support the ordinance repeal.
(2) Is it fair to allow organizations that have taken a public position on or have a stake in the outcome of an election to host a polling site?
If organizations take a vocal and vigorous position on an issue to be decided, are their buildings still neutral sites for voting? Couldn’t knowledge of their stance on the issue encourage some voters to go to polling places located in their buildings while deterring other voters from doing so? When voters are in polling places located in buildings associated with partisans in a referendum, couldn’t they be reminded by visible symbols of the organizations’ position on the issue and, perhaps subconsciously, have their votes influenced?
(3) Is it fair to put polling places in locations that are likely to deter some people from voting?
In regard to using the buildings of religious institutions as polling places, an assortment of voters may not want to go into the buildings of certain churches or religions, even to vote. If the location of polling places inhibits voting, is the election still fair?
It is reasonable to expect that elections will be free and fair, conforming to democratic norms. These standards can be met only if the administration of elections is neutral, providing each voter with a place to vote that is sheltered from partisans who might influence him or her as the ballot is marked. The mechanics of an election, such as the selection of polling places, should not give advantages to particular candidates and should not favor one side of an issue. When they possibly do, as when churches are used as polling places for votes on religious or “moral” issues on which they have taken a stance, questions about the fairness of the election and the legitimacy of vote results must be raised.


[1] To read Ordinance 5703, go to his link:
The ordinance can be downloaded from this link:

[2] Several people who supported repeal of the ordinance suggested that it was the product of outside forces trying to work their will in Fayetteville. Just as civil rights opponents in the 1950s and 1960s claimed that the issue was being created by “outside agitators,” mostly communists, several Chapter 119 opponents blamed the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) for the ordinance and the controversy surrounding the repeal effort. For example, Greg Harton, editorial page editor of the Northwest Arkansas Times (NWAT), which editorialized against 119, wrote in his commentary on December 8:
The population was dragged into battling encampments by Alderman Matthew Perry’s sponsorship of the Human Rights Campaign’s so-called civil rights ordinance….
The Human Rights Campaign didn’t tackle a city rife with discrimination. The group didn’t come to Fayetteville because the town is full of bigots, but because it is a place where people generally live and let live….The town still, however, has a streak of Ozark independence and doesn’t always take kindly to being manipulated by an outside influence…Some view this ordinance as Fayetteville being on the cutting edge, at least within Arkansas; others believe the elected leaders have allowed the city to be manipulated to the national organization’s purpose.
On December 22, he wrote:         
Fayetteville Alderman Matthew Perry thought a stand on principle would lead to victory in his effort to pass the Human Rights Campaign’s ideas for how Fayetteville should govern itself. The organization found in Petty a political leader willing to sponsor an ordinance drawn up by national LGBT activists trying to wage a national battle on local battlefields. http://www.nwaonlinecom/news/2014/dec/22/commentary-can-principle-pragmatism-co-/
According to a column in the NWAT by Woody Bassett, a local lawyer: “The blame [for the divided community and bad publicity] belongs mostly on the shoulders of our city government, which choose to enact a poorly written and overreaching ordinance and mistakenly allowed an out-of-state special interest group to use Fayetteville as a tool to advance its own national political agenda.” See Woody Bassett. City Can Heal, Find Resolution After Election. NWAT, Dec 18, 2014, p 2a.

Apparently Harton viewed Perry as a simple-minded tool of the outside agitators (this echoes the widely held view in the South during the 50s and 60s that local Blacks were duped simpletons manipulated by the sinister NAACP). I guess somehow it did not seem possible to Harton and Bassett that Perry and other aldermen who supported the measure viewed HRC’s model ordinance as, with some tweaks, a suitable legislative vehicle to accomplish an end they saw as desirable. Did the issue change because a particular organization provided a model ordinance or that it promoted its passage? Or were the complaints just another aspect of the effort to defeat the ordinance?

Another effort to smear the Human Rights Administration ordinance, its supporters, and HRC can be seen in a video on the Repeal 119 website. In a video statement by Duncan Campbell, he associated the ordinance with Terry Bean, a co-founder of HRC and a long-time Democratic political activist, who had been arrested in the middle of November on charges related to sex with a 15-year-old male. According to Campbell, it was Bean who “founded” HRC and who “conceived” of the ordinance (in reality he was one of several founders and was not involved in the day-to-day work of the HRC). Clearly, Campbell was using Bean’s arrest to suggest something unsavory about the ordinance and to smear its supporters.  

[3] The Arkansas state legislature passed legislation (Senate Bill 202) in February 2015 to prohibit local governments in Arkansas from enacting such ordinances as Fayetteville’s ordinance 5703 in the future. Because the bill was not signed (or vetoed) by the governor, it becomes law 90 days after the adjournment of the legislative session ends.

Taking advantage of the delay of the law’s implementation, Eureka Springs passed on February 9th an ordinance similar to Fayetteville’s, prohibiting discrimination against people based on “real or perceived” sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or socioeconomic background. The city council approved a referendum on ordinance 2223, to be held on May 12th. Travis Story, the Fayetteville attorney for the Repeal 119 organization, is the attorney for a group in Eureka Springs called Repeal 2223. See Spencer Williams. Anti-bias-law ban, to end, goes unsigned. Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 24, 2015, pp. 1a, 4a and Bill Dowden. Eureka springs sets vote on its new anti-bias law. Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 25, 2015, pp. 1a, 2a.

[4] Ballot question committees are organizations set up under state law to oppose or support ballot issues. In addition to Repeal 119, the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce and the Family Council, a Little Rock-based organization, campaigned in support of repeal of the ordinance.

[5] Joel Walsh, Civil Rights Vote, Supporters: Community Needs Protection. NWAT, Nov. 30, 2014, p. 1a, 2a.

[5] By law, Ballot Question Committees are required to file financial reports with the Arkansas Ethics Commission. The reports for both Repeal 119 and Keep Fayetteville Fair are available on line.

[6] Joel Walsh, Civil Rights Vote, Opponents Cite Religious Concerns. NWAT, Nov. 30, 2014, p. 5a.

[7] See Repeal 119’s Ballot Question Committee Financial Report for 11-10-14 to 12-02-14 filed December 4, 2012 with the Arkansas Ethics Commission. According to this report, Stephanie Nichols, a lawyer in Jonesboro also provided legal advice valued at $7,000 to Repeal 119. See

[8] In its advertisements, Repeal 119 included the assertion that the ordinance was “dangerous to business.” This argument echoed and supplemented the main talking points of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, which also supported the Repeal 119 effort. The Chamber bought a full-page advertisement in the Northwest Arkansas Times on the Sunday before the referendum to advertise its support for the repeal of the ordinance because of its putative effects on businesses. The chamber did not, at least publicly, echo the claims that the ordinance was a “danger to children and women” and a “danger to religion.”

[9] NWAT, Nov. 30, 2014, p. 1a (see note 6)

[10] NWAT, Nov. 30, 2014, 5a (see note 6)

The use of this argument continued even though the city council addressed the concerns on August 19th by amending the ordinance to state that a person was not allowed “to enter any gender-segregated space for any unlawful purpose.”

[11] Dan Holtmeyer. Campaigns Condemn Sign Slur. NWAT, Dec 3, 2014, p. 2a

[12] See the Repeal 119 website ( for additional information on the leaders supporting repeal of 119. The site includes videos supporting repeal by:

*Charles Flowers, pastor of Faith Outreach Center International in San Antonio, TX.        
*Dave Welch, director of the Houston Area Pastor Council.
*H.D. McLarty, long-time Baptist pastor in Fayetteville (described on the site as “Pastor of the Razorbacks for 30 years”)
*Jeremy Flanagan, pastor of the Pathway Baptist Church in Fayetteville.
*Jerry Cox, director of the Little Rock-based Family Council, a religion-based anti-abortion and anti-gay lobbying group.  This group actively campaigned against 119 through telephone calls to Fayetteville voters.
*Carolynn Long, apparently a local celebrity based on her television appearances in Fayetteville over several decades

At the Repeal 119 website, you could download a song written “by a local artist” titled, “Gay is NOT the new Black.”

[13] Joel Walsh. Special Election Today. NWAT. Dec. 9, 2014, p. 2a.

[14] Matthew Petty. Let’s Keep Fayetteville Fair, NWAT, Nov. 30, 2012, p. 5b.

[15] NWAT, Nov. 30, 2014, 5a (see note 6)

[16] Petty, p. 5b (see note 14).

[17] See the financial reports for Repeal 119 and Keep Fayetteville Fair at the web site of the Arkansas Ethics Commission ( )

[18] Dan Holtmeyer. Church Polls Raise Questions. NWAT, December 14, 2014, pp. 1a, 7a

[19] They might be upset if their polling place were in, for example, a Church of Scientology. According to the Hollywood Reporter, voters in a district in Los Angeles voted in the Hollywood headquarters of the Church of Scientology in the 2014 general election. The newspaper reported:
If some Los Angeles residents wanted to vote in Tuesday's midterm elections, there were required to enter the Church of Scientology's mammoth blue Hollywood headquarters to do so.
Voters living in the 90029 zip code area were first required to pass several Scientology members handing out promotional leaflets at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Vermont Avenue.
They then walked down a long pathway to the entrance of the building at 4810 Sunset, one voter tells The Hollywood Reporter, where they were instructed by a church member to descend a set of stairs.
Along the way, voters were made to pass several framed posters. One beckoned to "attend a Scientology Sunday service." Another featured the silhouetted image of a man staring out at a sunlit path, promising that attendees of a "Happiness Rundown" would "flourish and prosper and live a happier life."
[20] Thanks to the Washington County Election Commission staff for providing the vote results by polling place and for responding to questions about how to understand them.

[21] Northwest Arkansas Times, December 14, 2014, p. 1a, 17 (see note 18]

[22] For a summary of controversies in Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, Missouri, Ohio, and Virginia, see the document at the following link:

[23] “In 1991 Frank Otero, an atheist running for mayor of Miami, Oklahoma brought suit against Oklahoma challenging the use of churches as polling places (Otero v. State Election Board of Oklahoma 975 F.2d 738 (Sept. 1992)). Otero argued that the use of churches as polling places harmed his campaign by increasing the chance that voters will think about religion when voting. A year later, in Florida, Jerry Rabinowitz filed suit because in the church where he voted there were “pro-life” banners and various religious symbols and sayings which he felt could bias voter’s choices (Rabinowitz v. Anderson Case No. 06-81117 Civ.). In both cases, the courts failed to find evidence that voting at churches taints elections.”
Quote from Ben Pryor, Jeanette M Mendez, R. Herrick. 2011. Does Where You Vote Matter? Polling Location Priming for State Ballot Issues. Oklahoma Politics, 21, p. 56. Available at this link:

For an in-depth discussion of the legal issues involved in these cases and the general issue of voting in church polling places, see Jeremy Blumenthal and Terry Turnipseed. 2011. “The Polling Place Priming Effect: Is Voting in Churches (or Anywhere Else) Unconstitutional. Boston University Law Review. Volume 91, pp. 563 – 598.  Available at this link:

Appendix 1 
Research on the Impact of Location Cues on Voters

Assertions that the location of a polling place can influence voters’ choices are based on research on how external cues or stimuli can influence behavior. This research has found that certain cues prime (or nudge) behavior, often even when people are not consciously aware of them. For example, one study showed that individuals behave more aggressively when in the presence of a weapon, even when the task is unrelated to it.  Another study has shown that playing French classical music in a wine store resulted in increased sales of French wine while playing German classical music in the same store increased sales of German wine. Summaries of these studies and other examples on the priming effect are found in Blumental and Turnipseed (2011, pp. 563-565), Glas (2014, pp 2 – 7), and Pryor, Mendez and Herrik (2011, pp. 58-62).   

Drawing on the general literature concerning priming effects, some researchers have applied the findings to elections, suggesting that the location of a polling place can, under certain circumstances, affect decisions made by some voters. The two most-hypothesized effects of location on voting decisions are (1) if  a polling place is in a school, voters there are more likely to vote favorably on proposals, such as tax increases and bond issues, to improve schools, and (2) if a polling place is in a church, voters at that location are more likely to vote for conservative candidates and to be influenced by “religious’ or “moral arguments” when contentious social issues (e.g., alcohol, gambling, abortion, gay rights etc.) are on the ballot. In both cases, the locational effects are expected to be marginal, influencing a small number of voters.

These two hypothesized relationships between polling places and voting results have been investigated in recent years by a small number of researchers. When researching the effects of voting in a polling place located in school, researchers have consistently found that the polling place marginally affected voting results. Using different methodologies to analyze voting results in several different states, researchers have identified a small priming effect:  holding other things equal, a larger percentage of voters who cast their votes in schools, compared to voters who voted in other locations, favored proposals that would benefit schools.  These studies include:  Berger, Meredith, and Wheeler (2008), Rutchick (2010), Glas 2011, and Pryor, Mendez, and Herrick (2011, 2014)

Research has been less conclusive when the hypothesis is that voting at polling places located in churches influences votes on moral or religious issues. The first research on the topic (Ruthick 2010) found an effect that Blumenthal and Turnipseed (2011) labeled, in a Boston College Law Review article, the “Polling Place Priming Effect.”

Rutchick’s (2010) work, published in Political Psychology, examined votes cast at different types of polling places in South Carolina’s sixth congressional district.  First, he examined votes in a congressional election in which a conservative Republican challenged an incumbent Democrat.  Then, he analyzed votes on a proposal to amend the South Carolina constitution to state that marriage is legal only between a man and a woman.  Controlling for age, race, gender, and party affiliation, he found that the Republican candidate and the constitutional amendment got greater percentages of the vote in polling places located in churches than in other polling places. His concluded that voting in churches was “associated with support for…a conservative constitutional amendment, but only if the amendment was relevant to Christian values.”

Based on this research by Rutchick (2010) and related research by Berger, Meredith, and Wheeler (2008), Blumenthal and Turnipseed (2011) suggested that when people vote at polls in churches, they are influenced by cues or stimuli associated with the location. According to them, “a non-trivial percentage of the population is affected on an unconscious level by voting in churches.” (p. 563)

However, research published after Rutchick’s journal article has been at best ambiguous on whether voting in a church polling place affects votes. In some of the research, the hypothesis has been rejected.

In his 2011 master’s thesis for Georgia State University, Jeffery Glas analyzed the effect of polling place location on votes cast in California’s 2008 general election on various ballot initiatives. He analyzed votes on two social issues: (1) a requirement that parents or guardians be notified before a minor could have an abortion and (2) a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriages. In both cases, the percentage vote for the proposal was greater in churches than in other locations, but the differences between the vote results were not statistically significance. These results provide some weak support for the hypothesis of the effect of location on votes, but was not as conclusive as Rutchick’s study or the research of the effect voting in schools on vote results.

S.R. Daniel, in papers for the American Political Science Association (2011) and the Midwest Political Science Association (2012) annual meetings, also analyzed the effect of voting in churches on the 2008 Prop 8 results in California.  Using a structural equation model to test for the effect of voting in churches on votes for Proposition 8 (prohibiting gay marriage, he found, after controlling for numerous factors, including education and precinct conservatism, no independent impact; that is, his model did not find a significant effect on polling place on voter’s decisions. However, the power of the model was diminished because his data mixed precinct voting data with county-wide social and demographic data.

Two studies by Pryor, Mendez, and Herrick (2011, 2014) also did not find that voting in churches influenced voters in way that was hypothesized.  Their 2011 study examined a referendum in the 2004 general election in Oklahoma on a proposal to prohibit gay marriage. The researchers found that voters who cast their votes in churches were not more likely to support the proposal; instead, they were more likely to oppose it.

The second study analyzed votes in the 2012 general election on proposals in Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota to either allow or prohibit same sex marriage. Again, their analysis found voters who their voted at polling places in churches were not more likely that voters at secular locations to support limitations on same sex marriage. As in their first study, they found that such voters were more likely to oppose it.

The consistent results showing that voting in schools has a marginal effect on vote results supports the assertions about the existence of a polling place priming effect. However, the mixed results of the research on the effect of voting in churches leaves open the question of whether voting in churches has a consistent polling place priming effect.  The amount of research on the topic is still quite small, and each study has its strengths and weaknesses. None, singly or together, is conclusive. Thus, research to date is insufficient to either strongly support or reject hypotheses about the existence of the influence of church polling places on voters.
Sources consulted:

Berger, Jonah, M. Meredith, and SC Wheeler. 2008. Can Where People Vote Influence How They Vote” The Influence of Polling Location Type on Voting Behavior. Stanford School of Business Research Paper no. 1926.

Berger, Jonah, M Meredith, and SC Wheeler. 2008. Contextual Priming: Where People Vote Affects How They Vote. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States, 105: 8846-8849.

Blumenthal, Jeremy and Terry Turnipseed. 2011. “The Polling Place Priming Effect: Is Voting in Churches (or Anywhere Else) Unconstitutional. Boston University Law Review. Volume 91, pp. 563 – 598.

Daniels, R. Steven. 2011. Voting Context and Vote Choice: The Impact of Voting Precinct Location on Voting for California Proposition 8. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Seattle WA, Sept 1-4.

Daniels, R. Steven. 2012. Voting Context and Vote Choice: The Impact of Balloting in Churches on Voting for California Proposition 8. Paper presented at the Western Political Science Association Annual Meeting.

Glas, Jeffery M. 2011. The Priming Effect of Polling Locations on Ballot Initiative Voting Decisions. Thesis, Georgia State University. Accessible at:

LaBouff, Jordan. 2014. How Balloting in Churches Sways Attitudes and Votes. Scholars Strategy Network Key Findings.

LaBouff, Jordan, Wade Rowatt, Megan Johnson, and Callie Finkle. 2012. Differences in Attitudes towards Outgroups in Religious and Non-Religious Contexts in a Mult-National Sample: A Situational Context Priming Study. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 22, pp. 1-9. 

Pryor, Ben, Jeanette M Mendez, R. Herrick. 2011. Does Where You Vote Matter? Polling Location Priming for State Ballot Issues. Oklahoma Politics, 21, pp. 55-71.

Pryor, Ben, Jeanette M. Mendez, and Rebekah Herrick. 2014. Let’s Be Fair: Do Polling Locations Prime Votes? Journal of Political Science and Public Affairs (open access), Vol. 2 (3), p. 126.

Rutchick, Abraham. 2010. Deux ex Machina: The Influence of Polling Place on Voting Behavior. Political Psychology, 31 (2): 209-225

Appendix 2:  Map of Vote Results

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