Election Zoom Gatherings Slated

Note: The following was featured in the October 14, 2020 edition of the Sierra Pacific Synod newsletter.

In November, the people of the United States will elect a president and others to public office. This election occurs at a time of change in our national and church life, a time when the Holy Spirit is at work in mysterious ways, and a time when many of our relationships are being changed and challenged.

This election occurs in a time of global pandemic, racial injustice, economic hardship, sickness, suffering, loss and death. For many, this election also occurs in a time of great divisions between family, friends and neighbors.

These divisions can seem deep, wide and potentially injurious to our democracy and our sense of community.

As people of faith, claimed by Jesus, we believe that the role of the church is to support and pray for the well-being of the world, for wise leaders to be raised up, and no matter what the outcome that we will be given the gift of “peace that passes all understanding that guards our hearts and minds through Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

Region 2 bishops and leaders – the Sierra Pacific, Pacifica, Southwest California, Rocky Mountain and Grand Canyon Synods of the ELCA – invite all who wish to gather for a time of prayer and reflection to join us as we pray for our nation, for those seeking office, for God’s beloved community, and for rostered ministers as they seek to lead in their specific contexts during these conflicted times.

These livestream gatherings will be:

Sunday, November 1 – 6:00 pm PST

Thursday, November 5 – 6:00 pm PST

Note: Pastors and deacons are invited to open conversation via ZOOM immediately following the Thursday prayer service. You may register HERE.

LEAN Says ‘Yes’ On Question 4

Add Voters’ Bill Of Rights To Nevada Constitution

A number of years ago, when LEAN was LAMN (Lutheran Advocacy and Ministry in Nevada), the organization published a “voter guide” that considered each election’s nonpartisan ballot questions in light of the ELCA Social Statements. That habit has fallen into disuse due to reorganizations and personnel changes, though it may be revived in the future.

However, this election year, voting is such a hot topic that the LEAN advisory board decided to highlight one Nevada ballot question.

Ballot Question 4 proposes enshrining in the Nevada Constitution a “Voters’ Bill of Rights,” to ensure that Nevadans will always be able to raise their voices and votes.

All Nevadans are struggling with how to vote safely in this unusual election year. Though special procedures are in place to ensure everyone can vote—including historically marginalized people—the pandemic, a special legislative session, and a few lawsuits, the rules have spurred several changes, so it’s hard to know what to do.

In the midst of all the chaos, which is similar to what is happening all across the country, the ELCA Church Council issued a Social Message titled, “Government and Civic Engagement in the United States: Discipleship in a Democracy.”  (Social Messages are second in rank behind Social Statements in terms of official church teaching.) The Message notes that fewer than 20 percent of people trust government to do the right thing, but also says that it’s part of the Lutheran vocation to get involved, to not just stand back and be cynical.  The Message encourages many types of involvement, but recognizes that for many people, voting may be the only act of engagement, and that it is very powerful: “This church strongly affirms voting, guided by faith-based values, as an exercise in citizenship.”  It also notes that “We have the responsibility to raise our voices and votes against misuse of government.”

This Voters’ Bill of Rights already exists in Nevada law—it’s been there since 2002. In 2017 the Nevada Legislature proposed the rights be enshrined in the Constitution.  The proposal was confirmed unanimously in 2019. 

The Bill of Rights is a list of eleven items which are not controversial:

  • Receive and cast a ballot that is written in a format that allows the clear identification of candidates and accurately records the voter’s selection of candidates.
  • Have questions concerning voting procedures answered and have an explanation of the procedures for voting posted conspicuously at the polling place.
  • Vote without being intimidated, threatened, or coerced.
  • Vote during any period of early voting or on Election Day if the voter has not yet voted and, at the time that the polls close, the voter is waiting in line to vote at a polling place at which, by law, the voter is entitled to vote.
  • Return a spoiled ballot and receive a replacement ballot.
  • Request assistance with voting, if needed.
  • Receive a sample ballot that is accurate, informative, and delivered in a timely manner as provided by law.
  • Receive instruction on the use of voting equipment during any period of early voting or on Election Day.
  • Have equal access to the elections system without discrimination.
  • Have a uniform, statewide standard for counting and recounting all votes accurately as provided by law.
  • Have complaints about elections and election contests resolved fairly, accurately, and efficiently as provided by law.

Because they’ve been the law for nearly twenty years, placing these provisions into the Constitution will add no expense to the state budget.

In light of ELCA teachings, the LEAN advisory board and officers recommend a “yes” vote on Question 4.

Negotiating Nevada’s 2020 General Election

Though Nevada’s recent primary election was all by mail and went well, all-mail elections are not the new normal in Nevada, and if voters want to continue mailing their ballots, they have to request an absentee ballot, and they can make that request permanent. Well, as we all know, these are not normal times, so election procedures have changed again.

The second Special Session of the Nevada Legislature passed AB 4, and there’s a lot of confusion about it. Here’s what you need to know:

1. If you requested an absentee ballot, you don’t need to do anything. You will receive a paper ballot that you can mark and return, either by mail or by delivering it to the County Registrar. Also, there’s another option, explained below.

2. If you have not requested an absentee ballot, you’ll get a mail-in ballot anyway. Again, these are not normal times, and AB 4 authorizes all-mail elections in times when the Governor has declared a state of emergency. Such a state is in place as preparations are made for the election, so the emergency rule of mail for everyone applies. However, if America ever gets back to “normal” times, Nevada goes back to the regular rules, and voting by mail will be via absentee ballot only.

3. Only active, registered voters will receive a ballot in the mail. This is different from the primary and designed to save the cost of sending ballots that are undeliverable or will not be used. A registered voter is one whose information is on file with the County Registrar, whose identity was verified at registration, etc. An active voter is one whose address is valid. So, it is possible to be a registered voter but not be active because the Registrar does not have a good address for you. There is a place on the Secretary of State website to check your address and correct anything that’s wrong. Go to www.nvsos.gov/elections/voters. “Active” is not related to when you last voted, so if you did not vote in the primary, or haven’t voted for years, you’ll still get a ballot in the mail so long as you’re registered and your address is good.

4. Although it’s very much discouraged, you can ask someone to hand deliver or mail your ballot for you. Anyone can do this—you don’t have to be disabled and it doesn’t have to be a family member who does it for you. However, if the helper fails to deliver the ballot, or does it after November 3, you’re out of luck—your vote doesn’t count.

5. There will still be in-person voting sites, just like there were for the primary. AB 4 addresses the long lines at the polls in June by setting a minimum number of locations for both early voting and election day. Clark County will have at least 35 early voting in person locations, and at least 100 vote centers on election day. (According to the Secretary of State, Clark is planning 159 centers.) Washoe County is required to have at least 15 early voting locations and 25 vote centers on election day. The smaller counties must have at least one early voting site and at least one vote center on election day. An important note: If you wish to vote in person, you still need to bring in and surrender your mail-in ballot. Then you’ll vote as usual.

6. There has been a lot of concern about voter fraud. The Secretary of State has set up elaborate procedures that are uniform across the state to combat this. Every voter’s signature is on file with the Secretary of State. Every voter must sign the transmittal envelope when they return their ballot. The two are compared before the ballot is counted, and if they don’t match, a letter goes out. If you get such a letter, it’s important to respond, and you can do so online and several other ways. Failure to “cure” a question about whether it was you who filled out the ballot will result in the ballot being disqualified. People have wondered whether a person could vote by mail and then go to a polling site and vote again. Procedures to prevent multiple votes have been in place for a long time. When you check in at a polling site, they call up your name on a statewide database, and if you already mailed a ballot or already voted across town, it will show up.

7. It is not true that there is a grace period to mail a ballot after November 3. Ballots must be postmarked (or delivered) not later than November 3. The Registrar will continue to accept mailed ballots for three days after election day, but only those bearing a November 3 postmark. The grace period is to allow the post office to do its part.

There is a lot of misinformation circulating. LEAN encourages everyone to be engaged with the candidates and the issues, but avoid spreading confusion about the process. Anyone who has concerns should call or visit their County Registrar or look at the Secretary of State website. That’s the place for authoritative, up-to-date information.

The main thing is do vote, and do so no later than November 3.

Nevada’s Hard Road Ahead

Covid-19, Black Lives Matter Present Challenges and Opportunities

Here we are, going into the second half of the epic year 2020, and Nevadans are feeling the pain.

First came the coronavirus pandemic that shut down our normal lives and the economy along with it, costing Nevadans the highest percentage of job loss, per state, in United States history.  More recently we’ve seen an eruption of anger and activism focused on the racism that seethes beneath the surface of our ostensibly civil society. 

Economic collapse and structural racism must be addressed, and Nevada is going to have to deal with them together.  Gov. Steve Sisolak has called a special session of the Legislature, which begins on July 8. Assembly and senate members have to deal with an $800 million budget deficit this year and a projected $1.3 billion shortfall next year; the governor has already proposed painful budget cuts, including deep slashes to education and health care. Tax revenue dried up when the economy shut down. Nevada has historically been vulnerable to the “boom-bust” economic cycle because of its heavy reliance on gaming and sales tax. Perhaps now is the time to revisit the state’s outdated property tax structure. But that fix must wait while we deal with our immediate situation: not enough money to pay the bills.

There has been a lot in the news about demands to “de-fund” police departments as a means of curbing police violence.  That is an unfortunate term, and for most people, it doesn’t mean completely wiping out police forces, but rather, shifting resources away from police agencies and toward social services that address the problems for which police are typically called.

A process we might better call “reallocation” sounds like it would be a simple “revenue neutral” process.  Unfortunately, that’s not true. Police agencies have been tasked with all kinds of duties that could and should be handled by other professionals, precisely because budgets for other agencies have been cut.  Over the years, legislatures throughout the country, and in Nevada as well, have found it politically convenient to under-resource mental health, housing, job training, and more. It’s politically convenient to cut such services because the main beneficiaries are the poor and people of color—those who have little or no voice in the legislative process.

Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada exists to speak for these groups.

LEAN advocate Bill Ledford will be at the Legislature’s regular session when it convenes in February 2020, but in the meantime, he and the LEAN board will keep tabs on developments at the special session. (The public can follow developments here).We will do all we can to ensure that those who have no voice are represented in very tough budget negotiations. Shifting funds from law enforcement seems to us a productive way to address the problems that hold minorities down. The police would be grateful to be “de-funded” in this way.

For us Lutheran Christians, the budget fight is not just a political exercise; this is a moral crisis we must face. The ELCA has moved forward boldly to acknowledge our collective and institutional sin of racism. For us in Nevada, accepting the prospect of higher taxes may be part of that. Reallocation of resources to promote equality must be.

Lenny Dunca, an ELCA pastor and author of the book Dear Church: A Love Letter From A Black Preacher, describes the Lutheran church as “the whitest denomination in the country.” Many white Lutherans have attended protest rallies and marches.  Many more of us have wondered what to do to help.  Pastor Duncan was recently interviewed on NPR and was asked that same question. “White denominations need to show up, share their wealth, and let people of color and street activists lead,” he said.  While tax policy or law enforcement can’t be changed overnight, those who are able can certainly donate to groups that work against bias in the justice system, that work for housing equity, for voting rights, and related causes.

LEAN will be at the Legislature to work on these issues, but we can’t do it alone. We’d love to hear from our Christian brothers and sisters on how they think Nevadans can better work together to bring about equitable social change in our state – and how LEAN can best represent them to legislators. Feel free to e-mail your thoughts, concerns and ideas to leanforjustice@gmail.com

LEAN Supports Nevada Covid-19 Hunger Relief

Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada (LEAN) recently received a wonderful  surprise gift. A very large donation came through the Sierra Pacific Synod from St. John’s Lutheran Church of Sunnyvale, California.  This blessing arrived the first week of April, in the midst of the Covid-19 lockdown, and just as the state unemployment offices were being overwhelmed with claims.

Volunteers from the Food Bank of Northern Nevada take part in a drive to help hungry residents through the Covid-19 shutdown.

LEAN  was aware that food pantries throughout Nevada were likewise being overwhelmed. Although LEAN’s mission is advocacy to address the root causes of hunger and poverty, the board recognized that a direct response to the emergency was appropriate, and also wanted to make a tithe in gratitude for the gift.

Northern Nevada is in the Sierra Pacific Synod, and Southern Nevada is in Grand Canyon Synod. LEAN’s board decided to contribute to feeding programs in both Synods.  A gift of $5,000 went to Food Bank of Northern Nevada. The Food Bank is an industrial-scale operation that supplies food pantries throughout Northern Nevada, including Elko, Winnemucca, and other locations in what we refer to as “the rurals.”

“The Food Bank is so grateful to partners like LEAN,” said Nicole Lamboley, President and CEO of the Food Bank of Northern Nevada. “We are seeing significant increases in families who need our help during this crisis and we wouldn’t be able to meet that need without partners who share our passion for helping our neighbors.”  The photos in this article are of a one-day event in Reno which served 900 families. 

Southern Nevada has multiple food assistance programs, but LEAN is especially close to Lutheran Social Services of Nevada.  LSSN offers many types of services, and among them is a food bank.  This food bank is unique in Nevada, having pioneered “Digi-Mart.”  This is an online shopping application. Pre-approved clients can order the items desired, and LSSN workers assemble the orders for client pickup. This has been particularly beneficial during the Covid-19 crisis because contact between client and LSSN staff is reduced.  LSSN people simply drop the order in the trunk of the client’s  car.  The ability to choose enhances client dignity and autonomy and reduces waste of unwanted products.

Digi-Mart has experienced a huge increase in demand.  On one recent morning, LSSN delivered food equal to 60% of what would normally be distributed in a month.  LSSN leadership posted on its Facebook page the following comment: “Thank you to our partners at Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada (LEAN) for your gift of $5,400 to help with our Covid-19 Emergency Distribution in the Digi-Mart! Your support will help us continue to combat hunger at a critical time in our community and in our world. We are so grateful!”

A different agency serves Nye, Esmeralda, and Lincoln Counties, so a tithe of the gift allocated to Southern Nevada went to Nye Communities Coalition. This is an “umbrella” organization that assists other service agencies by providing resources and coordination.

Tammi Odegard, Chief Operating Officer of Nye Communities Coalition, said, “Your donation has allowed us to ‘fill the gaps’ where grant funds won’t allow or don’t exist.  With the new (and ever-changing) CDC guidelines, the food banks are being saddled with additional expenses for personal protective equipment for their volunteers/staff. To date, your donation has allowed us to purchase masks and gloves for the local food banks. They have been so appreciative, as the donations they receive are usually restricted to food only.”

Ms. Odegard added, “Thank you again for your generosity, we are hopeful we can continue to partner together to benefit the communities in Nye, Esmeralda, and Lincoln counties.”

LEAN shares that hope.