Ohio and Pennsylvania are nearly tied in hosting the largest populations of Amish in the United States, at around 60,000 each. And when votes are counted starting on Tuesday, both states figure to play a deciding role in who becomes the next president of the United States. Thousands of votes are likely to matter.
The largest single settlement of Amish is centered on Holmes County in central Ohio. Sue Ann Miller, a resident of Lakeville, has been living among this community for 28 years. This year she’s been working to bring members of this Christian sect, who dress plainly and live without electricity or automobiles, out to the polls.
Amish rarely vote for political candidates, but when they do, they usually align with conservatives, supporting fewer taxes, pro-life values, and traditional marriage. Although Miller grew up Methodist, her husband’s parents were Amish (he can still quite literally “speak the language”—Pennsylvania Dutch), and she’s comfortable herself chatting with the Amish at flower and vegetable markets.
She’s so comfortable that not long ago she stepped up on a political soapbox during a conversation with an Amish man: “I kind of shook my finger at him and said, ‘You know, if you Amish would vote we wouldn’t have Barack Obama as president.’”
The man put his head down and answered, “I know.”
“Almost every time you talk with the Amish about voting,” Miller told me, “they say, ‘No, I don’t vote. But I pray.’” Many Amish feel that voting for a specific candidate is like placing a judgment on someone, she said. If they vote at all it’s often for referenda issues—like tax-hike proposals.
Miller and two of her friends wondered: How could they encourage the Amish to be involved in this year’s election? One friend mentioned she knew a local Amish businessman who not only voted, but also argued with those who didn’t. He’d ask them: Do you have a garden? And do you merely pray for your garden, or do you cultivate it as well?
Miller and her friends borrowed the idea and printed up 400 to 500 flyers that said, “Do you pray for your garden? Of course you do. But you plant, cultivate, and harvest the fruit of your labor as well. This November your country needs you to do more than pray.”
Throughout September and October the three friends set up a table at local auctions and bloodmobiles (Amish often donate blood) and handed out flyers inviting Amish to register to vote. They handed out a “conservative ballot” that listed candidates who stand for traditional values. They told them about President Obama’s support for abortion and same-sex “marriage.” “They were just appalled at what Obama had done,” Miller said.
At a typical auction or blood drive, some Amish took the flyers, and some—perhaps a dozen on average—filled out voter registration forms. Others walked by, ignoring them. A man on a bicycle was enthusiastic. According to Miller, he came “barreling” up the road after hearing about the voter drive and stopped at the table so he could register, too.
Phil Burress, president of Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values, said thousands of Amish voted in 2004 when Ohio’s ballot asked whether to amend the state constitution to protect traditional marriage. After Miller called Burress and told him about the garden-themed flyer she was handing out, his group used it as a template for a full-page ad targeting the Amish. “Join us as we stand in the gap,” invited the ad, which ran in five newspapers, including the Holmes County Shopper News, The Budget, and the Holmes edition of The Bargain Hunter.
Miller hopes Amish concern for marriage, religious freedom, and the sanctity of life will motivate large numbers to walk or ride a carriage to the polls, or mail in absentee ballots, perhaps giving Republican candidate Mitt Romney the few extra votes he needs to win Ohio.
“This election is crucial for your family for generations to come,” Miller told the Amish who stopped at her table over the past several weeks. “They all agreed with me.”