LED sign outside New Life Church

In this still from a recorded video, an LED sign outside New Life Church, the polling place for the Monroe precinct of Amherst County, flashes to a partisan slogan the morning of Election Day 2018 before it was shut off. 

MONROE — Amherst County election officials shut off a roadside sign for a church that served as a polling place for residents living around Monroe Tuesday because it flashed a partisan message.

Sharon Jackson, who was campaigning for Democratic candidates Tim Kaine and Jennifer Lewis, said the roadside LED sign at Providence Bible Church flashed the message “Vote Jobs & Safety Not Mobs & Crazy” Tuesday morning. The church is the polling place for nearly 2,000 Amherst County residents living around Monroe.

The sign cycles through that message and other messages related to Providence Bible Church and Spirit & The Word Community Church, which, according to county land records, co-own the building.

The message, with “Jobs & Safety” in red and “Mobs & Crazy” in blue, echoes the #JobsNotMobs hashtag and slogan that’s become popular in the past month with Republicans and supporters of President Donald Trump.

The phrase pits job creation and unemployment rates that Trump has taken credit for against rally and protest participation among liberals. Trump has tweeted the hashtag and used it to rally conservatives in recent weeks.Corey Stewart, the Republican candidate on ballots for U.S. Senate, used the hashtag to name a rally for his candidacy in Prince William County Monday.

Jackson said the message was appearing on the church’s sign when she arrived around 5:30 a.m. to set up a campaigning spot in support of Democratic candidates. She said she notified a few different groups of the slogan, including the Amherst County Electoral Board, and the sign was cut off by around 11 a.m.

“It’s just sort of inappropriate, partly because it’s part of a place to vote,” she said.

Helping out in the Republican candidates’ campaigns outside the church, James Dean said he didn’t pay any attention to the sign and was only told what it read.

“I mean, it didn’t mention any parties or names,” he said.

Chief Election Official Cornelia Ware, who was working at the polling place Tuesday, said she received a number of complaints about the sign. In more than 30 years working at the polls for that precinct, she said she hadn’t encountered a similar issue before.

The LED sign was nestled among a number of candidate-centered yard signs Tuesday, well outside the 40-foot marked-off boundary where campaigning materials aren’t allowed per state law.

Amherst County Electoral Board member Kenneth Branham said he also hadn’t seen such a sign outside a polling place in his six years on the board.

“Most signs are vote for so and so…but this one was basically criticizing one of the political parties and it was taken from a speech that one of the politicians made that was degrading the other party,” he said. “…I don’t think the sign was appropriate.”

Carl Farmer, pastor for Providence Bible Church, said Tuesday evening his congregation is evangelistic and conservative and the church is a “bad fit” as a polling station. Providence took over the church, formerly New Life Church, right before the 2016 presidential election and Farmer said a similar situation arose regarding a pro-life sign the church was displaying.

Branham also said he’d like to use another polling location for the Monroe precinct in the future.

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Rachel Mahoney covers courts for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5554.

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