Elections

'We don't vote': Iowa Amish say they won't side with Trump

Instead, they'll pray for 'someone who will let us lead a quiet and peaceful life'

Eddie Gingerich, 15, a member of the Amish community near Hazleton, drives a team of eight matched Percheron draft horses pulling two 16-inch plows across a field of corn stubble on Tuesday. Few if any Amish will vote in the upcoming election. (Orlan Love/The Gazette)
Eddie Gingerich, 15, a member of the Amish community near Hazleton, drives a team of eight matched Percheron draft horses pulling two 16-inch plows across a field of corn stubble on Tuesday. Few if any Amish will vote in the upcoming election. (Orlan Love/The Gazette)
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DELHI — Efforts to induce Amish in Ohio and Pennsylvania to vote for Donald Trump will not be successful in Iowa.

“We don’t vote,” said Amos Christner, 67, a minister and deacon in the new and rapidly growing Amish community southwest of Delhi.

Though they have received candidate materials in the mail, all eight members of Old Order Amish communities interviewed Tuesday near Hazleton and Delhi said they have never voted in a presidential election and never will.

Christner said Amish decline to vote in accordance with their faith’s teaching that they should not conform to the world.

Rather than vote, he said, they gather on Election Day, “go into prayer and ask the Lord that he would put in office someone who would let us lead a quiet and peaceful life.”

Christner said he reads The Gazette and several other newspapers and periodicals and is quite familiar with the issues in next week’s election.

“As for voting, we have never met these people and don’t really know them,” he said.

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Voting patterns vary greatly among the more than 500 Amish settlements in 31 states, according to Donald Kraybill, widely considered America’s foremost Amish scholar. Iowa, with an estimated 8,800 Amish residents, ranks ninth among the states in Amish population.

In most Amish communities, “there is little voting for presidential elections,” said Kraybill, who recently retired as a senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.

They historically have viewed voting for the president, the commander in chief of the armed forces, as inconsistent with their conscientious objection to war, he said.

In general, he said, the more progressive and larger Amish communities with close interaction with sizable English populations — such as Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County and Ohio’s Holmes County — are more likely to vote, but even then the rate of voting is low.

A 2004 effort to turn out the Amish vote for George W. Bush proved successful in Lancaster and Holmes counties, with about 12.5 percent of eligible Amish voters casting ballots, according to Steve Nolt, Kraybill’s Young Center successor and a resident of Lancaster County.

Earlier this year, Nolt said, Trump backers posted two billboards in Pennsylvania Amish country and placed an advertisement in the Budget, a popular Amish newspaper, which soon was withdrawn after Amish readers objected to it.

“My sense is that there is not much enthusiasm for Trump among the Amish,” Nolt said.

While Bush’s down-on-the-farm, Christian persona appealed to the Amish, Trump’s self-important demeanor evinces pride, a cardinal sin to the Amish, whose church would consider his womanizing, divorces and bankruptcies as grounds for excommunication, Kraybill said.

Raymond Stutzman, proprietor of the 150 Discount Store in the Buchanan County Amish community, said he is aware of efforts in other states to encourage Amish to vote for Trump, but said he has not been contacted personally.

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Stutzman said he has followed the Clinton and Trump campaigns closely enough to know that “both lie.”

“I like Trump a little better than her,” he said.

So, too, does Christner, who said he thinks Trump would be more likely to appoint Supreme Court justices who would uphold religious freedom, a paramount value to the Amish, who prevailed in the landmark 1972 Wisconsin v. Yoder case. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that Amish children could not be placed under compulsory education past eighth grade.

A sign declaring the candidacy of Pete Buschmann for Delaware County supervisor — perhaps the only political sign in the Hazleton and Delhi Amish communities — stands in the yard of Joe and Edna Borntreger, a mile southwest of Delhi.

“We don’t vote, but we let a friend put up a sign,” said Edna Borntreger, who operates a bakery and sells eggs.

Along with missing out on campaign signs, the Amish, who eschew most electronic devices, also don’t see television commercials — which in an era of increasingly vitriolic campaigns and decreasingly upright candidates, may be more of a blessing than they know.

“I’m not interested in politics,” said Cornelius Lambright, a member of the Amish community near Hazleton.

“We do get mailings from candidates and throw them directly into the wastebasket,” said Clara Kaufman, 32, a member of the same Amish community.

Mary Hershberger, 33, a clerk at the Plainview Country Store in the Buchanan County Amish settlement, said no one she knows votes.

“It’s always been this way, and I guess I never asked why,” she said.

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