Those raising concerns about the McLennan County Commissioners Court devoting more money toward ensuring Lake Shore United Methodist Church is legally fit to serve as a voting place are right in their constitutional instincts. While Americans today clearly disagree on the notion of church-state separation and whether God permeates the Constitution, most of us would at least agree taxpayer money should not benefit one faith or denomination over another.
Yet most of us also live in a real world of conflicting laws and realities, which means in this case we should cut commissioners some slack in making sure Lake Shore United Methodist is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act for elections. Given election bungling in the 2016 Republican Party primary that left supporters of one Republican candidate feeling cheated, give credit to commissioners now trying to ensure voter access for all. It isn’t easy these days.
That’s not exactly been a priority of the Republican Party of Texas in recent years, considering such GOP-led voter-suppression legislation as the 2011 voter ID law that conservative and liberal jurists alike have repeatedly singled out as racially discriminatory. So if county officials operating closer to the people better grasp the importance of ensuring that more places are available to cast ballots, let’s assume the best.
As Trib staff writer Cassie L. Smith reports, county commissioners this week approved almost $17,000 to bring Lake Shore United Methodist Church into compliance with federal ADA standards so it can be used as a vote center again. That’s $6,000 more than originally estimated. Under this arrangement, however, the church is obligated to serve as a vote center through 2024. And if the church cancels for any reason, it must pay the county back the $16,837 cost of repairs.
Members of the commissioners court including Ben Perry and Judge Scott Felton have been correct to question and debate investing public funds in private property. While the U.S. Supreme Court may have been right from a practical standpoint in its controversial ruling this past summer to condone funding from a state playground safety program for Trinity Lutheran Church in Missouri, the ruling also strikes us as an extremely slippery slope from what the Founding Fathers intended.
Republican County Commissioner Will Jones, in whose precinct Lake Shore United Methodist Church stands, is right about one thing: Some churches make excellent vote centers, given spacious building accommodations and parking lots, and they don’t present problems of confounding schedules and activities of students, teachers and parents at some schools that have served as vote centers. Our Election Day experiences at First Assembly of God on busy Bosque Boulevard and First Baptist Church of Woodway on Highway 84 only confirm just how appropriate they can be. Ironically, they also invite politicians running for office to follow through on their first pledge, win or lose: to clean up all campaign signs on church land once elections are done, so worshipers can follow a far higher dictate than the frivolities and lures of campaign season.