One congregation to be voting station for gaming referendum

Auditor: No voting during a congregation's main weekly service

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Maybe it's a silver lining for backers of a Linn County casino:

Just one religious congregation filed a petition before the Feb. 1 deadline to use its building of worship as a satellite voting station for the March 5 referendum on casino gaming in Linn County.

In 2003, when a similar gaming measure went down to defeat, three churches asked to be voting sites during Sunday morning services. And two of the three qualified after the Linn County Auditor at the time determined that the two churches had enough space to separate Sunday morning voting from Sunday morning worship.

At the time, one congregation member of the 478 who voted at the First Assembly of God speculated that nearly all who voted on that Sunday in 2003 voted against the casino measure.

This year is different. Only the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids, 2999 First Ave. SW, has filed a petition to set up a satellite voting site at their building. And the Center has suggested a Saturday voting date, not a Friday, the day of the week for the Muslimsí main worship service.

Voting will take place at the Islamic Center from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Saturday, Linn County Auditor Joel Miller said late Monday.

Tim Hyatt, a member of the Islamic Centerís board of directors, on Monday said that the Centerís intent is to provide a community service by offering a large facility that is "ideally situated" to make it easy for people in that part of the city to vote.

Hyatt said Muslims frown on gambling, and he said he will be voting against the casino measure for that reason. But he added that the Centerís intent is not to influence those who vote at a satellite voting station located at the Center.

This year is different from 2003, too, because Linn Countyís Miller said he would not permit voting at a satellite voting station in a religious facility during the congregationís main weekly religious service as was done in two Christian churches in Cedar Rapids in 2003.

"I donít think itís appropriate to do that," Miller said. "To have an election at a church when a service is going on the same day, I think that crosses the line."

He said satellite voting stations are intended to be voting places for the area around the satellite voting site and for every voter in the county.

The Centerís petition seeking a satellite voting station contained 110 valid signatures, 10 more than required by state law to establish a voting station, Tim Box, the deputy commissioner of elections at the Linn County Auditorís Office, reported on Monday.

Miller noted that state law leaves it to the auditor to establish the date and time that any satellite voting site operates, and Miller said he has decided to set up the site this Saturday to meet the Islamic Centerís preference. Miller noted this he already has satellite voting stations established elsewhere on the last two Saturdays in February before the March 5 vote.

Back in 2003, 478 voters cast ballots at First Assembly of God and 108 voted at River of Life Ministries on a Sunday between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.

That year, the casino issue in Linn County went down to defeat, 30,659 to 27,368 or 52.84 percent against and 47.16 percent for the casino.

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