The Commonwealth of Virginia has a dress code at its polling places—no buttons, no campaign shirts, no campaign hats. The goal: To avoid violating the ban on attempting to influence someone's vote within 40 feet of a polling place. But many think that the dress code has to do with keeping the ballot secret. Consider self-identified Republican voter Alex Tompkins:
"It makes sense that you shouldn't walk into a polling place advertising who you're going to vote for. They've got curtains for a reason… keep your vote private."
No one should be compelled to reveal his vote. But secrecy in the voting booth is to protect the voter from coersion or retribution for an unpopular vote, not to protect others from knowing who you're voting for—there's no civic duty to keep your vote private. Hell, Tompkins just declared his party affiliation on television. His neighbors have probably been driving by his McCain-Palin yard sign for weeks.
Historically, voting was anything but private. Jill Lepore has a great article in The New Yorker this week about the slapdash, totally public nature of voting for most of American history.
Still, the Virginia rule raises a vital question: Would poll workers be required to make you remove a pro-Obama thong? Probably not, as long as your pants aren't low-rise enough to reveal your, ahem, party affiliation. But people wearing campaign t-shirts will be asked to turn them inside out. The real concern: What if these sweatpants had McCain's name written across the butt? And what if you were wearing the aforementioned Obama thong underneath? A secret ballot indeed…