(This “Hometown Heroes” article originally appeared in Focus on the Family Citizen magazine, October 2004 Issue)
by Candice Z. Watters
They watched fireworks and flew the flag, but Bill and Janie Zouhary did something else this Fourth of July that they’d never done before. At the back of church following the Sunday morning service, they stood behind a folding table covered with a white cloth and a red geranium festooned with miniature American flags and invited church members to fill out voter-registration forms.
It all started when the Zouharys attended a Bush-Cheney campaign meeting earlier this year. Janie had read that many evangelicals are not registered to vote, and when campaign organizers mentioned the need for volunteers, she spoke up.
“ ‘You know, we could register people in the back of churches,’ ” Janie recalled telling her husband. “Bill took it from there and went online and got all the information about the IRS and how churches are protected from losing their tax-exempt status. He started writing letters” to local churches.
The letters Bill sent included an attachment: Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations. This IRS document (available at www.irs.gov/) explains that churches are permitted to host nonpartisan voter-registration efforts.
When I first heard about the Zouharys’ plans for civic involvement, I was a bit skeptical, assuming that many pastors would shy away from all things political. But I was nevertheless proud of their efforts: You see, the Zouharys are my parents. In all my years at home I’d never seen them do anything more than faithfully voting.
They may have been late starters. But their timing couldn’t have been better. Toledo is the fifth-largest metropolitan area in Ohio and, this July, was the top-ranked market for presidential campaign ads. There’s good reason: In the last 40 years, no one has made it to the White House without winning Ohio’s 20 electoral votes. Plus, polls show the 2004 election is so close that the Buckeye State could be this year’s Florida.
‘Nuts ‘n’ Bolts’
When I asked Dad how things were going a few weeks after he mailed the letters, he sounded discouraged. Not one pastor had responded.
I forgot about that conversation until a few months later, when Mom mentioned that they were gearing up to register voters.
“Oh, really?” I said. “That’s great. Dad said no one called him back.”
“You must have talked to Dad before we started praying,” she said. “The letter wasn’t enough. We started praying together, that God would open up the doors supernaturally.” Not only did they pray as a couple, they also started a small group of intercessors. “A couple of the political leaders in northwest Ohio are believers, and I could see they were under a lot of attack,” Dad said. “So we said, ‘Let’s get together once a month and have a prayer time.’ Out of all my calls, only two said, ‘no.’ ”
“Well, I can’t get past the secretary of one pastor, and the other is convinced his members are already registered.”
“Even if everyone is registered, they’d still have three groups of people who would benefit from a voter-registration drive: people who’ve recently gotten married and have a new name, people ‘Yeah, we used to do that. I don’t know why we stopped.’ No- body seemed to be worried about their tax exemption. I don’t know if that was be- cause of the IRS ruling I included in the letter, or because they just knew from past experience that it was OK.”
In fact, the response was so good that my folks had to recruit more volunteers to help staff all 33 churches that agreed to do the voter-registration drive. On their first Sunday, the volunteers saw more than 200 people registered. With 30-plus churches participating and at least two more registration days to go at press time, it’s easy to see their effort registering at least 600 people. That’s no small number, considering the last presidential election was decided in Florida by 537 votes.