Rajahamsa Das passes a voter at a Berkeley, Calif., polling place located in the Hare Krishna temple on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2008, during the presidential primary.
If your neighbor leaned over the garden wall one day and said, "Hey, I’m just dropping by the local Hare Krishna temple to vote, wanna come?" you’d probably do a double take.
But that’s exactly what 2,000 locals in Berkeley, California do at least twice a year.
"Poll officers for Alameda county usually choose a school or church to host their polling stations," says ISKCON Berkeley Co-Temple President Rajahamsa Dasa. "But back in 2005, they just dropped by our temple and liked what they saw. I discussed it with the other devotees, and everyone thought it was a good idea."
The polling station, located in the temple lobby, is used for California propositions as well as for presidential elections. Providing this service for the 500 – 600 families in their area helps ISKCON Berkeley build good relations with their local community. "We supply tables, chairs, prasadam such as pakoras and herbal tea, background devotional music, and a display of Prabhupada’s books," says Rajahamsa. "Voters and poll officers like coming here, because they know they’ll be treated very well."
Voters snap up the food and often books too; those who don’t may face inspirational campaigning by the poll officers. "One woman was looking at our display of prasadam, so a devotee asked if she’d like to try some," Rajahamsa recalls. "When she declined, one of the poll officers insisted, 'Come on, try some! It’s excellent!' "
Recently ISKCON Berkeley's polling station attracted some media attention, with Yahoo! News running a photo of the unique location on "Super Tuesday" as part of their coverage of the presidential primary.