Values Voter Summit: The Value of a Little Strategic Dishonesty

A Saturday workshop on “Getting Church Voters to the Polls” suggested that getting the right candidate elected is more important than being honest with fellow churchgoers.

What Connie Marshner of the Leadership Institute presented was not the kind of nonpartisan voter registration and civic participation campaign many churches appropriately carry out, but a step-by-step “Church Plan” to recruit volunteers and run a campaign to identify and turnout voters for a specific candidate.

The plan starts with a voter canvas – calling through the church directory to find out which candidate people are supporting, whether they’re registered, and how likely they are to vote. “It is absolutely essential that the initial phone contact with the voter be anonymous contact,” says the manual, explaining that if the person receiving the call knows the caller, they might say what they think the caller wants to hear.

Marshner and her manual suggest having the callers pretend that they are with a polling firm. Several attendees noted that when there was some discomfort in the room about the ethics of building the campaign on deceptive calls, and workshop attendees got no good answers to questions about how a caller should respond if asked how he or she got the person’s name and phone number, Marshner moved the conversation along.

The kind of campaign Marshner presented could not be carried out by a church without violating its tax status; her plan seems designed to skirt that problem by being carried out by church members as individuals. And, it was suggested, it might be better not to get the pastor involved. A little plausible deniability to be on the safe side.