That's Electioneering Using a Cell Phone, And It's Not Fair!


In a good example of straining at the letter of a law and ignoring its spirit, the legal watchdogs at Judicial Watch think that getting a text message that you subscribed to receive that just might arrive while you are at a polling place violates anti-electioneering-at-polling-place laws. The group has

issued a request to the Illinois State Board of Elections to investigate whether the Obama campaign's planned Election Day text messages would violate a state law that prevents electioneering in polling places. Judicial Watch plans to issue similar requests to election officials in other states.

……Given that these messages will likely be received and read by voters on their cell phones inside polling places, and perhaps inside voting booths, the messages may violate an Illinois state law against electioneering within polling places.

Illinois law specifically states: "No…person shall, at any primary or election, do any electioneering or soliciting of votes or engage in any political discussion within any polling place." [10 ILCS 5/17-29 (a)]

According to the Judicial Watch letter, dated October 28, 2008:

"Even if an individual is planning on voting for Senator Obama on Election Day, a voter should be able to enter a polling place and cast his or her vote without being subjected to yet more electioneering. Secrecy, privacy, and freedom from outside influence in the polling place are fundamental to ensuring a fair election process. The people of Illinois must be free to cast their votes without electioneering text messages inside Illinois polling places. Illinois law requires no less."

"There is no difference between a text message received on a cell phone in a polling station and a campaign sign. The effect is to influence citizens as they cast votes. This electioneering is prohibited not only by Illinois state law, but the by the laws of other states as well….

Of course, there is a difference between a text message received on a cell phone and a campaign sign, even beyond that the particular recipient actually asked to receive the text and no one asks to see sign-wielding enthusiasts. While the full record of legislative intent of such laws is not in front of me, it seems to me their only possible legitimate purpose is more one of ensuring civic order at the polling place than protecting the "secrecy, privacy, and freedom" of the voter, which remains intact even if they get that annoying beep on their cell phones marking receipt of a txt.