In early voting or on Election Day, voters may want to cover-up their “Barack-Solid as a Rock-Obama” and “Palin Power” t-shirts. In many states, laws are unclear on whether voters can wear campaign paraphernalia in polling places. Though there are First Amendment concerns about preventing Americans from expressing their political choices, it may be easiest for voters to cover up t-shirts, buttons or other apparel that supports or opposes a candidate or an initiative.
According to Election Protection, not only do these restrictions vary from state to state, the laws are often vague and open to interpretation. Poll workers often have a hard time determining what activity is prohibited. Even if you live in a state that allows voters to wear political gear inside a polling place, a confused or inadequately-trained poll worker may try to stop you from entering the polling place to vote.
During the 2008 primary season, several voters called the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline confused by their local laws. Patsy, an Indiana voter, went to her polling place clad in a candidate’s hat and t-shirt and was immediately stopped by a poll worker. While Patsy was ultimately able to vote, the disruption for her and others in her polling place could be avoided by erring on the side of caution.
“While there are clear First Amendment issues with not wearing political paraphernalia of your choice, we urge voters to err on the side of caution to ensure that their ballot is able to be cast,” said Jonah Goldman, director of the National Campaign for Fair Elections at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The short term solution to this needlessly confusing patchwork of state laws is more adequate poll worker training so that laws are properly enforced. In the long-term, we need clear national standards that reduce the barriers that people face when heading to the polls.”
With more than 125 million voters projected for this year, mistakes are inevitable. Election Protection offers a free and nonpartisan hotline – 1-866-OUR VOTE (1-866-687-8683) and 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (1-888-83-9-8682) and online at www.866ourvote.org for voters who have questions or encounter problems when voting. Experts are standing by to help between now and Election Day.