Sister Reg McKillip
Sister Reg McKillip hands out candy at a polling place Nov. 3, 2020, in Wisconsin. (Photo courtesy of Brittany Koteles)

Topics: Spirituality | Politics

A nun spends her Election Day defending the polls in Wisconsin

An alliance of Catholic women religious and "nones" — those unaffiliated with any organized religion — fanned out to polls on Election Day


(RNS) — It was a beautiful day to vote in swing state Wisconsin — not too cold, the lines not too long. Spirits were high.

To make sure spirits stayed up, Sister Reg McKillip was handing out candy at the polling places she visited.

“It feels good to vote and fulfill that citizen responsibility, so I think it’s pretty upbeat around here,” said McKillip, justice coordinator for the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa.

McKillip and her Dominican sisters were among about 30 women religious offering a “prayerful presence for people” on Election Day (Nov. 3) at polls in Wisconsin and Michigan, viewed as battleground states in the 2020 presidential election.

The effort was organized by Nuns & Nones — an alliance of Catholic women religious and millennial “nones,” those unaffiliated with any organized religion — who joined a phalanx of faith leaders fanning out to polls across the United States, particularly in so-called swing states.

“We just hope to provide a positive presence to folks if they’re anxious, because if you listen to the news around here, you get a little scared about whether somebody is going to show up or what’s going to happen,” McKillip said.

Several denominations and organizations had trained clergy to serve as “poll chaplains” to monitor polls and offer spiritual care to voters in the run-up to this year’s election as concerns about voter intimidation and suppression ran high.

They included the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, T’ruah, Lawyers and Collars and the New Georgia Project.

McKillip, 69, said she and her sisters received training from Election Defenders, a nonpartisan project of Frontline.

It was important for them to get involved because, she said, their call as Dominicans is to be involved in society, and that includes elections.

McKillip and her sisters, who are based in Madison, have seen the unrest in Kenosha after the police shooting of Jacob Blake. They knew people were afraid they could face intimidation at the polls.

But they believe in the power of prayer.

“I think as religious sisters, it’s been natural for us to want to bring a peaceful presence to an area and really hopefully the positive energy that comes with prayer to alleviate people’s anxiety and possibly to alleviate any person there that is thinking about being violent or intimidating,” McKillip said.

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Those prayers may have worked, as fears of widespread intimidation or disruptions at polling places appeared to come to naught as millions turned out peacefully to vote across the country on Election Day.

The sisters started their day by praying together and decorating their vehicles with signs bearing messages such as “Every vote is sacred” and “We are praying for you.” They drove past the Dominican motherhouse, which they haven’t been able to visit since the novel coronavirus pandemic began.

About six vehicles were traveling to places around Racine and Kenosha. Another four or five were headed to Milwaukee, McKillip said.

Her first stop was a polling site at a school in Racine.

The sisters spent about 20 minutes at the school, she said. There were about 30 people waiting in line when they arrived in the early afternoon, and they talked to one woman who said the wait wasn’t bad; she’d come back to cast her ballot after finding a three-hour wait earlier that morning.

Next up, in Kenosha, they were excited to hear how many people were registering to vote for the first time, she said. Some thanked the sisters for being there, but really, she said, they were so grateful to see people voting.

They planned to visit four more polling places before another group of sisters took their place that evening.

McKillip, who voted absentee, said she was especially moved by the commitment people showed by waiting in line to vote.

And, she said, “I’m grateful that we can be here and hopefully have been a sign of goodness, because healing — we need that so much in our country today and in the future.”


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