Civil Liberties

A Sartorial Poll Tax of Sorts in Arizona Challenged


Is wearing a Tea Party T-shirt illegal electioneering at a polling place? Arizona officials seem to think so, and the Goldwater Institute is challenging them in court over a woman twice told she couldn't wear her Flagstaff Tea Party garb while voting. Details from a Goldwater Institute press release:

When Diane Wickberg went to vote in the special statewide election on May 18, 2010, she was wearing the same T-shirt she wears every Tuesday. The white shirt includes the logos "We the People" and "Flagstaff Tea Party – Reclaiming our Constitution Now."

…She was shocked when a poll worker told her to remove the shirt or turn it inside out before voting. The election worker claimed the T-shirt might influence or threaten other voters. Under state law, electioneering inside a polling place is a misdemeanor crime.

But Mrs. Wickberg didn't understand. The T-shirt didn't suggest voting for or against anything, and the Flagstaff Tea Party hadn't taken a stand on the single issue on the May 18 ballot.

In the end, Mrs. Wickberg was allowed to vote. But then she was stopped again when she went to vote in the Aug. 24 state primary. This time, Mrs. Wickberg had to cover her T-shirt with a sweater and hide her association with the Flagstaff Tea Party, even though it hadn't endorsed any candidates.

Mrs. Wickberg intends to vote once more in the Nov. 2 general election. The Goldwater Institute filed a federal civil rights lawsuit today against Coconino County and County Recorder Candace D. Owens to protect Mrs. Wickberg constitutional right to wear her tea party T-shirt when she goes to her polling place.

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  1. A couple years ago here in Virginny, we had a similar dust-up. Some polling place officials were not letting people in if they had campaign t-shirts or buttons on. They claimed it constituted “electioneering,” and required people to cover up, turn the shirt inside-out, etc.

    Enough people complained that the higher-up officials came out and explained that it was OK, you could wear your “Elect Billy-Bob Handleshifter” t-shirt to the polls, as long as you didn’t engage in any actual “electioneering.”

  2. Who wants to bet wearing a MooOn.bOrg t-shirt *wouldn’t* be considered “electioneering”?

  3. We are not given the information required to make an accurate assessment of whether the on/off status of her shirt constitutes a threat.

    Pic please!

    1. First google image result. No Comment for Jezebel or Johns Hopkins.

  4. “Is wearing a Tea Party T-shirt illegal electioneering at a polling place? Arizona officials seem to think so, ”

    Yeah but standing in the doorway of the polling place with a billy club is perfectly normal – as long as you belong to the New Black Panther party that is.

    1. Raaaacist!

  5. Oh, good, we still have Gilbert Martin here to burn strawmen!

    I was a poll worker for a few elections, and we were told that t-shirts with political slogans were not acceptable. We’d just send the person to the bathroom to turn it inside out, or ask him to put on his jacket.

    1. There is a huge difference between a poll worker wearing a T-shirt, and a voter wearing a T-shirt. There is also a big difference between a T-shirt and a billy club.

      You need to look up the definition of “straw man argument”. It does not mean what you think it means.

  6. I was watching an item on the Swedish election last night, and they had people pamphleteering right in front of the door to the polling station. Didn’t help the Social Democrats though, apparently.

  7. I’m having trouble getting too worked up. It’s clearly a political statement. The local poll worker can’t be responsible for keeping track of which political party has endorsed what candidates, or even whether or not there is a TEA PARTY candidate on the ballot.

    If is so esoteric that no one knows it’s a political shirt, then that seems like a bug, not a feature.

    1. Wearing a shirt that says “Tea Party” on it might be a “political statement,” but it is not the kind of electioneering that is prohibited at a polling place.

      If she walked into the polling place wearing a “Vote for Bob Blatwurst” t-shirt and tried to hand out pamphlets or bumper stickers to the people standing in line, that clearly would be electioneering.

      But just wearing a t-shirt like she did while going to cast your vote seems to pretty clearly be First Amendment protected speech – or at the very least should damn well be.

  8. Why isn’t electioneering protected speech?

    1. A very good ques, uh, I mean, Are you serious?!

  9. Two different issues.

    Is this a fair and (reasonably) consistent enforcement of the law as it stands?

    Is the law as it stands the way the law oughtta be?

    Two totally different questions.

    Regarding the first one, from my understanding, the answer is yes. Anything that can be construed as politicking is verboten.

    As to the second question, I’m not sure. FWIW, you can do all the politicking you want across the street, just not at the polling place.

    But this is hardly discrimination.

  10. This sentence made me laugh:
    The election worker claimed the T-shirt might influence or threaten other voters.
    Now if the voters of Arizona are that easily “influenced and/or intimidated” they sure have bigger problems than one middle-aged white woman in a tea-party t-shirt.

  11. If she was in the New Black Panther Party, she could show up with a baton and shout racist slurs without law enforcers doing anything to stop her.

  12. What the hell would they do if someone had a PARTY! PARTY! tshirt?

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