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?

46 Responses to “No Campaign T-Shirts or Buttons at Polling Places”


  • I don’t think I have ever worn a pin or t-shirt with the name of the candidate I support to the voting booth, but this new enforcement of the law makes me want to do just that this year.

    My main concern is that I don’t want to overburden the poll volunteers who hopefully are facing record voter turn-out on Nov. 4th. Do they really need to be bothered with asking me to remove the unlawful item?

    That said, I think I will go ahead and wear my Obama and Perriello pins (would wear a Warner one too, if I had one) and will politely remove them when asked. If nothing else, the presence of the pins may keep the folks outside from bothering me with their campaign literature.

  • I’m just going to do what I’ve done in the past: wear all Blue.

  • Hmmmm, those Palin shorts may have to come out of the closet!

    Its a non-issue. The sanctity of the voting process, being fair and uniform is far more important that someone little button not being worn for a few minutes. I could come up with a dozen scenarios that could impact the voting public if we did not keep the voting area completely neutral.

  • How is the pin or t-shirt illegal, but the gaggle of people (Republican and Democratic boosters) just outside the entrance to the polling place passing out sample ballots (etc), how is that legal?

    In California they call it electioneering and have a law against it and enforce it. You never see camps of people like that outside of the polling place trying to sway your vote at the last minute. And those groups seem to be more in the spirit of whatever law the officials have decided they want to enforce with the buttons and t-shirts.

    But that would be too difficult for local officials because those groups could/would actually fight back.

    What losers.

  • I got busted in the last presidential election for wearing a button. I removed it, but with grumbles as I had not heard of such a rule before. This was C’ville, mind you. This isn’t a new rule.
    I seriously considered wearing an Obama shirt just to be an ass about it. I resent being told what I may or may not wear when I cast my vote.

    Personally, I don’t see the problem with wearing a pin or a shirt: freedom of speech, IMO. I find this rule especially annoying because when you vote in the Primaries, you’re given a color-coded card based on party. Everyone in the queue knows which way you’re leaning. My card wasn’t the popular color; I earned some dirty looks.

    @James Ford: I like your idea! That should save me some embarrassment from exposing that extra 10 lbs. I’ve gained since the last election. At least my car is blue! ;-)

  • What does state LAW actually say? I believe the issue here is the POLICY the State Board of Elections is pushing. Should any individual polling centers choose to ignore that policy, they are NOT breaking the law…

  • @Majunga…it is in fact a law. Avail. here: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000 cod 24.2-604

    it basically says you can’t go within 40ft. of a polling place w/ any type of campaign crap. that’s why all those annoying hawkers have to stand out on the sidewalk passing out their stickers and sample ballots. makes sense that the law should apply to everyone, those morons outside as well as the people who are just there to vote. i don’t think it’s designed to enforce a dress code on the average voter. rather, it’s to prevent overzealous campaigners from having an in to follow you into the polling place screaming for their candidate.

  • What about my OBAMA tatoo?

  • if you pay attention you will notice lines drawn on the ground as the polling stations. They take is very seriously.

    LBJ would never have been the big chief if he had not stolen many, many elections. When I read Roberts Caros the first 3 of his 4 part LBJ biography (Path to Power, Means of Ascent,Master of the Senate and one to go) Iwas astounded how easy it is to abuse the voting process.

    And before you go saying this is 2008, remember that lots of polling places are still very small town. Had Texas enforced the laws we are whining about now, perhaps no LBJ and Goldwater wins…the country rebounds against Republicans…no Nixon…who knows.

    But clearly, these are laws that do nothing more than protect the polling process, and we should do everything we can to ensure that the president elected is that whom the majority of America votes.

  • I’m with ya, in that I’m not just voicing agreement but actively considering refusal to remove a pin come Tuesday. Those notorious brats at the ACLU could quite possibly just be waiting for someone to defend…

  • The sanctity of the voting process, being fair and uniform is far more important that someone little button not being worn for a few minutes. I could come up with a dozen scenarios that could impact the voting public if we did not keep the voting area completely neutral.

    Would it be OK with you to extend the radius to, say, 10,000 feet around the polling place? If not, why, and what is the ratio between bad electoral juju and distance from a voting booth? Is that decay rate exponential, geometric, or simply linear?

    But clearly, these are laws that do nothing more than protect the polling process

    Really? Because that’s not at all clear to me. Could you explain?

    we should do everything we can to ensure that the president elected is that whom the majority of America votes.

    ? Doyou think that people wearing “McCain” pins will result in a candidate winning who is not, in fact, the person for whom the majority of Americans voted? I can’t understand the causality (or even correlation) in this statement.

  • LOL Waldo. Knee jerk liberal reaction. Get a grip. The law says 40 feet and you argue 2 miles. But if you persist in being antagonistic, without a good grip of how the polling process can be corrupted, and sit in a dreamy cloud of liberal wishful thinking please feel free.

    If these thing are not clear, I suggest you grab those books I suggest, although vol 1 will cover your questions. Or do you think that these regulations were born of nothing.

    As to your last question, well, it make zero sense. Your disagree with the statement of ensuring the Prez is elected fairly and honestly?

    You are a smart guy, but woefully lacking in the history that makes these laws important. Attacking me for you lack of knowledge is not what I expect.

    Do you even know the definition of electioneering? Perhaps you need to look it up.

  • I’m confused. Let me try this again, phrased in the form of more direct questions, and we’ll pretend that you didn’t just behave like a dick.

    1. You asserted that the current process is necessary to maintain “the sanctity of the voting process,” but did not explain how that is so. Could you explain?

    2. You asserted that it’s “clear” that the purpose of these laws is to “protect the polling process” and “nothing more.” Were that clear, then you would not see a trio of legal rights organizations (one quite conservative, incidentally) filing lawsuits, nor would it be a subject of national news. Again, could you explain how this is “clear”?

    3. You claimed that “we should do everything we can to ensure that the president elected is that whom the majority of America votes,” implying that voting fraud is somehow connected to whether an individual wears a pin indicating their support of a candidate. Is that what you meant to imply? If so, can you explain this causality?

    I’m simply asking you to explain what you say that you already know. Just explain your reasoning, or admit that you cannot defend your claims.

  • I like the law that prohibits the propaganda in the polling places. I already feel bombarded by all sides. Phone calls, door to door canvassing, tv ads, radio ads, etc. have been going on for months now. What is wrong with having a little peace and quiet (free of all distractions) when we cast our votes? And, I don’t think it’s necessary to vote in your bra. You could simply put your shirt on inside out for the short time you are within the 40 foot boundary, right?

  • What is wrong with having a little peace and quiet (free of all distractions) when we cast our votes?

    Hence being in a booth at the time of voting.

  • I’ve been there when election officers have dealt with people wearing t-shirts with the candidate’s name on it. No one had to come to the booth with their shirt off; they were asked to simply go into the bathroom, turn it inside out and come back out. It’s not a law that the election officials demanded; it’s been on the books for a long time.

    As for the rules prohibiting campaign workers to keep away from a distance, they DO take it very seriously and measure and mark, sometimes the night before. But with the lines anticipated to be huge, I can see people ending out outside of the voting precincts and over the 40 foot line.

  • Danpri – you did indeed behave like a dick.

    But I must say that I am a huge fan of having no people, in person, harboring or expressing a political affiliation or opinion at a polling place. I tend to treat it like a library – everyone should be quiet and let all others make a solemn, considered choice. This is not a completely thought out position, just a personal preference.

    I had become so accustomed to the onslaught I encountered in VA when I voted that I was surprised at my last two voting experiences in other states. No people handing out anything. No fake poll people trying to shove a “ballot” in my hand. Just a sign or two, and me going in with one of my kids, signing in and voting in private.

    It’s much better. You feel like you are exercising your own right to vote. No pressure, either real or imagined. It’s you doing your own thing.

    I commend your volunteering at the polls, Waldo. I wish I could, really. But it should be a place free of influence. There is enough “electioneering” without seeing more at the polls.

    I don’t have an answer for how far people should be from the polling place. I just enjoyed a hassle-free walk to it.

  • Ah, now here’s somebody who can disagree without being disagreeable. Thank you, va displaced. :) FWIW, I think it’s totally reasonable to have a perimeter around a polling place where overt campaigning by political groups (setting up tables, pushing literature, etc.) cannot take place. It’s barring voters from dressing however they like that I can’t abide by.

    Oh, and I’m not pushy. We never are at Stony Point—neither are the Republicans. We’re there to answer questions for folks who have them, provide sample ballots for people who want them, and provide hot coffee and donuts to all.

  • Where is this quiet library of which you speak?

    Will you show me the quiet library? Then the Three Stooges?

  • I didn’t realize I was being disagreeable. I have voted in Virginia my entire life so I have nothing else to compare it to. Like va displaced, I would love to take my kids with me to vote without any “onslaught.” I look forward to experiencing that one day.

  • The law doesn’t say anything about non-voters displaying support.

    Where can I buy child sized Obama T’s?

  • I didn’t realize I was being disagreeable.

    Oh, you weren’t! I was actually referring to danpri’s comment; he’s normally quite fair in discussions, but I guess constitutional rights are a touchy topic for him.

  • Blanco Nino
    Oct 30th, 2008 at 1:31 pm
    @Majunga…it is in fact a law. Avail. here: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000 cod 24.2-604
    it basically says you can’t go within 40ft. of a polling place w/ any type of campaign crap.

    Like I said, the ban on worn clothing items is NOT law. Rather, it is an INTERPRETATION of the law by NON-LAW-MAKING entity. In other words, a policy. I happen to agree on the 40 somewhat feet LAW. But to tell people they can’t wear an Obama button or a McCain T-shirt is simply inconsistent with our liberties.

    BTW, doesn’t Levi’s support McCain? Oops, no jeans then… See how ridiculous that is? Well, you can EXTEND and MISINTERPRET all laws, but that doesn’t make your policy LAW.

  • I am a poll worker this year for the first time. in our “training” this was addressed. WE have to ask our fellow citizens to remove any pins or shirts. I highly resent being put in that position. Then if folks refuse to remove the offending clothing, WE have to fill out a form for the sheriff. Then I guess the sheriff goes to people’s house to give them a summons or arrest them.We probably won’t have any problems here in Fluvanna but I still think
    it’s stupid. I mean, who CARES what another voter is wearing anyway.

  • The 40ft limit is less than in some states. If it were 90, maybe people would feel less aggrieved about having to see a T-shirt or button (or tattoo!) I just don’t get it, why people feel they have to live in a bubble of perfect serenity never to be approached by confusion. I’ve been reading about the Lincoln-Douglas debates, back when the crowds jeered and argued. They would have needed to, otherwise a ninety minute statement speech would get impossible.

    Then again, that sort of populism didn’t work out so well.

  • “Then if folks refuse to remove the offending clothing, WE have to fill out a form for the sheriff. Then I guess the sheriff goes to people’s house to give them a summons or arrest them.”

    Incredible! Since WHEN does a board of elections have the right to use public resources outside of their division (sheriff dept.)? Can I go and ask the Sheriff to issue a summons based on my agenda?

  • Maj- well it’s the LAW they kept saying over and over and over. I know some folks were intimidated by this. They really were quite grumpy, these election officials- it’s the LAW by God and we’re going to see it is followed. And here in Fluvanna the sheriff’s dept is the law enforcement.

    But Fluvanna is not exactly a hotbed of political radical doctrine so I’m not very worried.

  • Jan – the Sheriff’s dept gets 1st stab at determining whether he law has been broken, NOT a board of elections. They may ask the Sheriff for assistance, but it’s the Sheriff who decides that he thinks a law has been broken, to be ultimately decided by judges. That’s the process.

    That’s a long way from the train of thought here, whereas a board of elections gets to not only make policy interpreting the law, but also thinks it can demand summons be issued… !!!

  • Does this have something to do with the Republican Attorney General?

  • the Sheriff’s dept gets 1st stab at determining whether he law has been broken, NOT a board of elections. They may ask the Sheriff for assistance, but it’s the Sheriff who decides that he thinks a law has been broken, to be ultimately decided by judges. That’s the process.

    Yup-all we poll workers do is fill out a form with the person’s name etc. on it and then the sheriff decides-I guess-who gets a ticket or arrested or not.

    Then someone at my training class told me WE, the poll workers- could arrest folks for wearing inappropriate stuff. I kinda doubt that. I can just see a brawl breaking out in the polling place. Talk about the sanctity of the vote.

  • Does this have something to do with the Republican Attorney General?

    I don’t think that it does. My understanding of the situation is that the boards of election are simply following the policy established by the SBE, and the SBE is interpreting the law as they understand it, and apparently have long understood it.

  • “[…]and apparently have long understood it.”
    So have some people long ‘understood’ Adam and Eve were running naked with the dinosaurs!

    “[…]someone at my training class told me WE, the poll workers- could arrest folks for wearing inappropriate stuff.”

    I’m glad you take that with a grain of salt, Jan! Because perhaps I may decide to turn around and arrest that ‘someone’ for what I think is unconstitutional behavior.

    But seriously, I am wondering whether all this is coming out now to hinder the validity of these crucial elections… see where I’m going with this?

  • What I don’t get is why anyone would wear a political message at all.

    And Waldo, you said you’re working at a polling place. Is that as an election official, or one of those peeps outside who harangue you?

  • What I don’t get is why anyone would wear a political message at all.

    If I might go out on a limb, I’d say it’s to make a public statement of support for a candidate who, for some reason, they support seeing in office. As we speak, millions of Americans are sporting pins, stickers and t-shirts for that reason. Perhaps you should ask a few of them why they do it. I suspect one of the next half dozen people you see will fit the bill.

    Is that as an election official, or one of those peeps outside who harangue you?

    Neither. But, as I mentioned, I am somebody who stands out front, not in the role of an election official, though I’ve never harangued a soul.

  • Waldo, I think I can tell from a number of years of reading your blogs that you wouldn’t harangue anyone at the polls, but a great many people do. It is one of those things I didn’t realize until it didn’t happen to me.

    Kind of like driving over Pantops and not noticing what the city and its surroundings look like until I’d left for a short while and come back home. But in the inverse.

    Again, my preference is just a preference, not an interpretation of the law. But I must say taking a child to a polling place is a great experience, but I honestly would think twice about doing it where I voted in VA. It was kind of uncomfortable, a place I tried to run through the gauntlet and get inside, doing my best to not make eye contact with whomever was trying to catch my attention to vote this way or that (again, not saying you do that, Waldo).

    Maybe such sentiments exist because of the few bad apples that spoil the bunch. But in many areas those bad apples rule the roost.

  • Oh, I know that folks can be pushy, I’ve certainly seen that myself. I’m just saying that we’re not in Stony Point. Never have been.

    Ah, the perils of free expression. :)

  • Agreed.

    Ah, to be in Stony Point in November.

  • Gotta add to the shout-outs for Stony Point…nice people from all points on the political spectrum stand out in the cold with campaign literature and offer it to voters, but I’ve never been harangued, and really I’ve never even been approached by someone that I didn’t smile at encouragingly first. When I used to vote in the city, in the Greenbrier area, same thing–no haranguing.

  • Never been openly or loudly solicited at Stone Robinson, but do understand that it happens at some polling places. There’s a huge difference between wearing a silent button or T-shirt (no haranguing there, right?) and yelling at people from a table. I find this interpretation of the law very bizarre and hope Rutherford et al kick some Election Board **s.

    All in all THE most exciting election in my 30 years of voting! Might have to shed a little tear when I pull the lever.

  • If I write a candidate’s name on my shirt, jeans, boxers, socks, and shoes, will they ask me to remove all of it? If they did, isn’t there some sort of law that could protect me from being forced into a nude state against my will?

    What if I wrote “Obama” on every piece of clothing I owned? Then the law would literally stop me from being able to cast my vote.

    What if I wore a shirt that said “John sucks”? Would this be OK? Or one leaving out a letter such as “Don’t vote _epublican”? There’s just way too much wiggle room for a law like this to really work in the first place.

  • I am about as far right wing as one can get, and for once I whole-heartedly agree with a liberal and the ACLU on this one. Waldo, your arguments are eloquent and match mine exactly. While I may not appreciate the noisy influence that takes place outside the 40 foot perameter, I certainly have educated myself enough well beforehand to already know for whom I am casting my ballot. People can (according to the First Amendment, by the way) yell all they want to. We are slowly giving away our freedoms by the wimpy notion that someone may not like us when they find out we’re not on their side. It’s rediculous. I am alone in the voting booth. No one can force my vote. I can mark whichever box I choose reguardless of who may or may not like it. I say proudly wear your Obama shirt. You have that Constitutional right. Our original Judeo Christian values that were the foundation for our Constitution give you that right, whether I agree or not with what who your shirt advertises. Whatever happened to the beauty of government BY THE PEOPLE?! If more people want Obama than McCain, then the people have spoken. I don’t have to like it. But we all should live with enough integrity to honor the majority choice or leave off living with it, rather than try to silence one another. I’m rather shocked at all the liberals here willing to go along with this, simply because it’s annoying on Election Day.

  • Listen, I agree with you all BUT this has been on the books and known to anyone working as an election official for at least four years, if not longer.

    I understand your outrage.

    BUT

    There’s a good chance that tomorrow’s wait in election lines might be as long as it was four years ago — two hours at times or even longer. Is it really worth the big drama scene of painting Obama on your face and doubledaring someone to arrest you? We have a lot of elderly people in my precinct; I’m already worried about them waiting for hours (and I’m hoping the weather will be good at least).

    I’m working as an election official (using an annual leave day) and I’m going to have to listen people bitch at me about the lines and how I’m not making people move fast enough. (As irritating as it may be for you all, there’s no time limit for people to stand in a booth.) As I see it, if I ask someone to take off a button, they’ll sue us and if I don’t ask them to take it off, the opposing political party could sue us for not following “the rules.” (Does this throw out the votes collected?)

    I really like getting yelled at for all of this. I didn’t like getting threatened by the husband of someone who had a Kerry button the last time; I asked politely and respectfully and said that it wasn’t MY rule but he got in all in my face and was going to “do something about it.”

    I’ll bring along any bandaids in case anyone does show up with McCain or Obama names painted on their face. That’s my solution. :-)

    PS As a kid and even as an adult, I loathe walking the plank with everyone throwing their crappy ballots in my face. I wish the rule was more than 40 feet.

  • Was our independence worth the Boston Tea Party? Political correctness and lazy indifference and not wanting to be bothered or wait in a line is slowly choking our rights into oblivion. This generation doesn’t want to be bothered enough to hang on to their rights, so they are slowly taken and twisted and spun like a clothes dryer. Welcome to getting what you ask for.

  • Tomorrow, there will be steady light rain from noon onward. You can help at least one of your neighbors endure the soggy queue. Here’s how:

    When you grab an umbrella as you head out your front door, I hope you’ll grab a second umbrella for the person behind you in line, who may not have thought to bring one.

    It’s a small gesture, but if enough people do it, you’ll have an impact. Kind of like voting.

    (Guess I’ll have to leave my swell “Obama” umbrella at home.)

  • HOw sad that people feel the need to campaign or show their support for a candidate at the actual pokking place. The laws are there for a reason. I believe it should be expanded to a minimum of 450ft including the property of the building. It’s appalling to me to see signs along the walkway into the building in which I will vote. The polling place should be neutral and the hawkers should be kept far away. This should be inforced everywhere. Unfortunately it isn’t. People need to show more respect for our electoral system including the candidates.

  • How sad that people feel the need to campaign or show their support for a candidate at the actual pokking place.

    There are many adjectives that you could have used here, but “sad” really doesn’t make any sense at all.

    How sad that people waking up early and standing in lines to express their opinion feel the need to express their opinion while expressing their opinion? How sad that people can’t support a candidate without simultaneously supporting a candidate?

    Tell me, Mike, do you think that people should be prohibited from discussing the election or the person for whom they’ll be voting while they’re in line or actually voting? That is, do you support a limitation on the words and images that people wear on their person, or does it extend to the words that they speak? What do you think the appropriate punishment is for somebody saying to the person in line next to them “I’m voting for Barack Obama”? Is that punishment the same as somebody wearing a button reading “I’m voting for Barack Obama”? Is it “sad” that our founding fathers were so foolish as to have no such restrictions at their own polling places?

    “Sad”? Really?

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