NEW PORT RICHEY — The Grace of God Church on Rowan Road has been a polling location without issue here for at least a decade, said Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley.
That is until Tuesday morning, when the Rev. Al Carlisle decided to take a stand and posted a small handmade sign outside in marker.
“DON’T VOTE FOR DEMOCRATS ON TUESDAY AND SING ‘OH HOW I LOVE JESUS’ ON SUNDAY,” it read, followed by an exclamation point drawn out of a cross.
Carlisle said his sign isn’t meant to discourage voting for Democrats but to discourage doing so while claiming to be Christian.
“I’m not saying don’t (vote Democrat),” he said, taking specific issue with progressive support for abortion rights and of the LGBTQ community. “I’m saying don’t be a contradiction.”
He also criticized Democrats in favor of open borders, saying they oppose Christian values in the Bible, which he said explains that God established borders for the Garden of Eden.
If people are offended by his sign, Carlisle said, they have a problem, not him. And their problem is with God.
Corley’s office received about 75 complaints on the phone by 2 p.m. as word of the sign spread. The pastor had posted a picture of it on the church’s Facebook page. Corley said the sign is “not appropriate,” but there’s nothing he can do because it’s on private property, just outside the 100-foot perimeter where campaigning is banned around polling locations.
“I resent it when we’re trying to run an election,” Corley said. Initially, he said, the church told him a private citizen had put it up. He later learned that the private citizen was the pastor, who told the supervisor he put it up “individually, but the church supports it.”
“He began to lecture me. I explained to him it’s not a religious discussion,” Corley said. “I asked him politely if he’d remove it.”
After checking with his office’s general counsel and the state Division of Elections, the supervisor said, he was resigned to the fact that there was nothing he could do to get rid of the sign.
“We will not use the facility again,” as long as it has the same pastor, Corley said. To change a polling place, he added, he’ll need to take out legal notices in the newspaper and send out new information cards. That, he estimates, will cost between $3,000 and $5,000 of taxpayer money.
“Being a polling place is not a license to make political statements as the host,” Corley said.
Carlisle said he does not mind if the church is not a voting location next year.
His land is dedicated to God, he said, and “it doesn’t revert back to the county just because there’s an election here.”
The Tampa Bay Times this year is partnering with ProPublica to track voting issues. Got a problem or question? Find @TB_Times or @Electionland on Twitter, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Times staff writer Howard Altman and senior researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.