The Rev. Alyn Waller is a busy man. The pastor of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, Philadelphia's largest African-American church, is working hard at dispensing voter information and monitoring the coronavirus. Waller is part of national effort to ensure all voters have access to a fair, free and safe voting experience.
Organized under the brands of 2020 Turnout Sunday and Lawyers & Collars Campaign, the effort has recruited “poll chaplains” among interfaith leaders along with church-based lawyers to provide moral and legal support at polling sites of vulnerable voters.
The group is addressing suppression tactics in nine states — Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — at 60 polling sites in four key cities in each state. Waller said the targeted cities in Pennsylvania are Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Erie.
"This is without a doubt the most important election of our time," Waller said. "There is so much going on. It's an exciting time to be in leadership. I'm representing the Philadelphia area [with the Lawyers & Collars Campaign] ... this is a program where lawyers and clergy commit to going to the polls and just being a physical presence to ensure a person coming into vote. We're there to help. We've identified problematic areas in the city and the state. If anybody has any problems we'll have a direct number that we can call and get answers to their problems or their issues rectified."
Voter problems are expected to arise on Nov. 3.
"First, [Waller and other pastors] are there to support," said Barbara Williams-Skinner, CEO and co-founder of Skinner Leadership Institute and co-convener of the National African American Clergy Network. They will also be able to help if voters have questions, she said. "And third, they can be a neutralizing force against voter intimidation, which has already started across the country against vulnerable voters."
Voter intimidation has been a problem.
"We had a command center staffed by experienced lawyers who know election law," said Williams-Skinner. "They are providing a moral presence, a presence that says I'm here to help, I'm here to protect, and I have backup. I have backup support for any question you have."
For the first time, Enon Tabernacle will be a polling site. Waller said Enon East will be the site for the 50th Ward and 29th Division and Enon West will be the voting site for the 12th Ward and 11th Division. He offered the church for sites after City Councilmembers Cindy Bass and Cherelle Parker expressed concerns about having adequate polling locations.
"We've never had it before and I'm excited about it," Waller said. "I feel more pressure around this election because so much is at stake. I do a lot of international travel. These last four years have been the worst experience of leaving our country because we are such a laughing stock around the globe."
Last April, Waller tested positive for the coronavirus. After self-quaranteening, he was cleared. He's been keeping up with the current spike in COVID-19 cases in the country and specifically Philadelphia.
"I'm in an antibody study with the Black Doctors Consortium," Waller said. "I will take an antibody test on Thursday because that will make it six months out. At three months I had antibodies. Now we're going to see where I'm at. I'm feeling good. I'm concerned that because of COVID fatigue people are become lax. People still die of this. As Christians we have to respond to this like Jesus to the shepherd [Luke 15:3-7] who was supposed to have 100 but only had 99. You don't celebrate the 99, you ask where is the one?"