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Amish Looking Upward

November 2, 2008

SOMERTON, Ohio - While many Americans fret over getting to the polls on or before Election Day, local Amish residents are simply waiting to see what happens in this year's presidential race. They believe God will guide society to the right conclusion.

Andy Weaver, an Amish man who lives in the Somerton area, was a customer at a sawmill owned by another member of the Amish community one recent morning. He and mill owner Dennis Miller said their religious beliefs prevent them from taking part in elections; however, both are paying attention to the process.

Miller did not express a preference for a particular candidate.

Article Photos

Photo by Jennifer Compston-Strough
Local Amish residents are confident God will guide society to the right conclusion in the election.

"We just stay home and pray that hopefully we'll get the right guy," Miller said.

But Weaver, who had read about the presidential race in that morning's edition of The Intelligencer, knows who he would support if he were to vote.

"I like Obama," he said, noting he prefers the demeanor of Illinois Democrat Barack Obama to that of his Republican opponent, John McCain of Arizona.

"When he got blasted, he didn't waiver off his course," Weaver said of Obama. "I think he's the man we need."

Weaver added that he, as a member of the Amish community, generally opposes war and believes Obama has the better plan to withdraw American troops from Iraq.

John Poffenbarger, an assistant professor of political science at Wheeling Jesuit University, said most Amish are not encouraged to vote; however, he said they are not prohibited from doing so by civil regulations. In many cases, their own communities do not prohibit voting, either, he said.

He speculated that the Amish of Belmont and Monroe counties who say they are prohibited from voting are "more conservative" than some groups such as those in Holmes County, Ohio, where the Amish are known to participate in the elections process.

In fact, the Associated Press reports that the Bush campaign hoped for Amish support in Ohio and Pennsylvania during the 2004 presidential election as it sought to defeat challenger John Kerry. When the Amish do vote, they generally support GOP candidates because of their stance on issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

About 180,000 Amish live in 28 U.S. states and parts of Canada. The conservative, Christian subculture descended from Swiss Germans. They inhabit rural areas, usually without cars, telephones, televisions or many other modern conveniences as part of their lives.

Some reasons Poffenbarger offered for Amish choosing not to vote include that they believe running for office is arrogant and does not fit with their values of humility and modesty. He also said holding office would violate their desire to separate themselves and their community from the rest of the world.

And any Amish citizens who would decide to vote might encounter some obstacles.

Tim Quinn, a constituent liaison with Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner's Voting Rights Institute, said Amish voters would be required to give some form of accepted identification when registering to vote or casting a ballot. He acknowledged this could prove difficult for the Amish, who do not pose for photographs or drive motor vehicles. For these reasons, it is unlikely an Amish citizen would be able to produce a driver's license or state-issued photo identification card.

Other forms of identification that are considered acceptable include utility bills, bank statements, insurance cards, Social Security cards, a government-issued check or a letter or note from a public school or university. These also could be hard for an Amish person to come by, since they generally do not use electricity or other utility services, do not participate in Social Security or insurance programs and are educated in community schools.

"It's definitely a tough situation," Quinn said. "The bottom line is, to register you have to provide a valid form of ID or the registration is deemed invalid.

"We wouldn't be able to make exceptions for a particular group or culture."

Belmont County Elections Director William Shubat said he is unsure whether any Amish have registered to vote locally this year; the registration deadline was Oct. 6, and the general election is Tuesday. He agreed with Quinn that if any Amish did register in Belmont County, valid identification would have been required.

At the polls, though, Shubat said an Amish citizen - or any citizen for that matter - could cast a provisional, paper ballot "with no ID at all." He said the voter would then have 10 days to produce their identification in order for their ballot to be counted when the election is officially certified.

Joe and Elizabeth Yoder, an Amish couple with 10 children who live along Belmont County 102, said they have paid little attention to the current presidential race, but Joe mentioned that members of the Amish community do use a democratic process to make decisions within their church.

"We're more worried about our own selves," he said, noting members of his community are prohibited from taking part in elections that involve local, state and national issues and races.

Elizabeth said she has heard other people talking about the presidential campaign, but she has chosen not to become involved and has no opinion on the contest.

"We just stay at home and pray for the best," she said.

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