No Campaign T-Shirts or Buttons at Polling Places

In a clear case of unbelievable bullshit (that’s a legal term), state law turns out to prohibit any voter from displaying support for any candidate when voting, and that law will be enforced in the area on Tuesday. If you show up to vote with a John McCain button or a Barack Obama t-shirt, you’ll be told that you must go into the booth topless. If you refuse, you can still vote, but you will be charged with a crime and face a year in prison. Charlottesville and Albemarle will both be enforcing this state law, and while they are basically obliged to do just that, Virginia Beach’s registrar has instructed poll workers to simply ignore the law.

The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, the Rutherford Institute, and the ACLU of Virginia are teaming up to file a lawsuit against the state to overturn the policy, arguing that state law simply prohibits “exhibit[ing]…campaign materials to another person” in or near a polling place, but that law was never intended to affect buttons or clothing worn by voters. That suit won’t even be filed until after Tuesday, so it will have no effect come Tuesday, but the hope is have the policy eliminated. The organizations ask that anybody who is asked to remove political garb contact them and report the incident.

I remember the woman voting in Charlottesville’s Recreation precinct in 2004 who walked into the booth wearing just her bra up top, after she was told she’d have to remove her campaign t-shirt. I work the polls at the Stony Point precinct every year, in Albemarle, and this year my wife and I will be bringing some spare work shirts and jackets, so people can cover up.

Now I’m facing the conundrum of what to do. Do I refuse to take off my Obama pin, and let the chips falls where they may? Or do I follow a law that I know to be capricious and unconstitutional? (As I’ve mentioned, I may have helped get Denise Lunsford elected, but I don’t doubt she’d charge me with a crime if I had it coming to me. Awk-ward.)

Maybe if hundreds of us refuse to take off our pins and shirts, if we all break the law, then it simply won’t be possible to prosecute all of us, and we might just help to get this overturned. How about it?

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