Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend to urge marginalized people to vote

September 30, 2016 | Fort Wayne Sentiniel | Link to Article

The goal isn't just to get out the vote. It's also to build a grassroots group of voters who will hold their elected officials accountable.

The Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend will launch its Prophetic Voting campaign with a prayer vigil and voter canvassing beginning at 12:15 p.m. Saturday at St. Joseph Catholic Church, 2213 Brooklyn Ave.

After the prayer vigil, people attending will go door-to-door in neighborhoods around the church to encourage people to vote their conscience and to hold elected officials accountable after they take office, said Audrey Davis, the diocese's social justice ministries coordinator. They also will offer information about nonpartisan resources where people can learn more about candidates' stands on issues. 

The program is in collaboration with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' "Faithful Citizenship" drive, which asks individual Catholic churches to stress the importance of voting during sermons at Masses this Sunday, the diocese announced. In cooperation with the PICO National Network’s "Together We Vote" campaign, the bishops and network hope to contact 1 million marginalized voters nationwide, including about 83,000 in Indiana.

The local diocese wants to encourage at least 2,000 people in marginalized populations, such as immigrants, the poor and those previously convicted of felonies, to make their voices heard by voting in the general election Nov. 8.


Within the elected winners' first 100 days in office, the diocese also wants to organize meetings between those officials and voters so people can tell the politicians what they expect from them in office and that they will be held accountable, Davis said.


The Prophetic Voting initiative will focus efforts on five parishes around the diocese — St. Joseph on Brooklyn Avenue and St. Patrick on Harrison Street in Fort Wayne; St. Michael in Plymouth; St. Patrick in Ligonier; and St. John the Evangelist in Goshen. All of the churches serve a large number of Latino people, Davis said.


The parishes already have reached out to some immigrants, working families and others to get them involved in holding voter registration drives, calling people to encourage them to vote, and to talk with their family and friends about the importance of voting, the diocese said.


Within the Catholic faith tradition, people always have been taught they have an obligation to participate in public life, Davis said.


Churches and other nonprofit organizations can't tell people who to vote for, however, without risking a loss of their tax-exempt status.


The diocese decided to pursue the Prophetic Voting initiative after data showed a lot of people in marginalized groups are eligible to vote but don't exercise that right, Davis said.

Barriers to voting include lack of knowledge of the English language and how and where to vote, Davis said. Others get little time off from work, and many immigrants also are skeptical of elections because they come from countries where elections often were rigged.

Theresa Driscoll, a volunteer helping with the door-to-door campaign at St. Joseph church on Brooklyn Avenue, said she has worked at the polls the last two primary and general elections, and she saw a lot of people who wanted to vote but couldn't because they came to the wrong polling site by mistake or because they had moved. She noticed many of them also had only a small window of time to do their voting. 

As part of the door-to-door efforts beginning Saturday, Driscoll said volunteers from St. Joseph will try to make sure people have all of the correct information they need on how and where to vote. They also will ask what issues are most important to them so they can carry that information to the meetings with candidates after they take office.

The Fort Wayne parishes involved in Prophetic Voting also will designate a day when they will take people to early voting sites to vote, Davis said. Translators will be available for those who need one.

The diocese views the Prophetic Voting initiative as part of a long-term process to make elected officials more accountable to voters.

"This is just the beginning," she said.