Boulder County voters whose polling place is Sacred Heart of Mary Catholic Church on South Boulder Road can expect to walk past an anti-abortion display -- including thousands of crosses representing aborted fetuses -- when they go to cast their ballots Tuesday.
County election officials said the display does not appear to violate any rules for polling places, but they will allow voters assigned to Sacred Heart of Mary to vote elsewhere Tuesday -- and the county will no longer use the church as a polling place in future elections.
"Our concern is that people are going to feel a sense of conflict with regard to voting at this church," said Molly Tayer, Boulder County's deputy clerk and election coordinator.
Tayer said a church representative initially told the clerk's office that the display, erected in October for Respect Life Month, would be taken down the first weekend in November. According to Tayer, that person called back on Friday to say that, "Father has elected to keep it up."
The Rev. Marcus Mallick is the priest at Sacred Heart of Mary. Church representatives on Monday referred questions to the Archdiocese of Denver, where a spokeswoman said the display is not meant to influence voters, but to continue a ministry that reaches out to women considering abortion and those who have undergone abortions in the past.
"These are 'Respect Life' signs to bring awareness to the issue," said Karna Swanson, the diocese's spokeswoman. "The decision to keep them up was based on the success of that ministry."
Swanson said she does not know how long the church -- which made news in 2005 for hosting burial services for the cremated remains of aborted fetuses -- will maintain the display. She also said that no one from the church spoke with the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder's Office between April, when the contract was signed to host the voting location, and late last week.
The display does not appear to violate any election rules against expressing political views at polling places, Boulder County's Tayer said. It is on the church's private property and is not explicitly political. It also lies outside the 100-foot buffer inside which no political signs or personal campaigning is allowed.
However, the Boulder County clerk's office has received three complaints about the display being located outside a polling center.
Tayer said the clerk's office will not use the church as a polling place during future elections, and voters who object to the display will be allowed to vote instead at voter service centers, including at the main location at the clerk's office, 1750 33rd St..
Tayer said she is not aware of ever having a similar issue with Sacred Heart of Mary, which has served as a polling place in the past, or with any other church.
Sacred Heart was advertised as a polling place starting 90 days before the election. While state law does allow for polling places to be changed in an emergency, Tayer said the situation doesn't rise to that level.
A complete list of alternative voter service centers is available online at bouldercountyvotes.org or by calling 303-413-7740.
Swanson, of the Archdiocese of Denver, said the church has no problem with the clerk's office seeking out other polling places in the future.
"The clerks have every right to choose where polling places are at," she said. ___
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