Campaigns/Elections

Happy Ending to the Arizona Tea Party T-Shirt Case

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In our January 2011 issue, I reported on a lawsuit challenging discrimination at the polls in Arizona against people wearing politically themed T-shirts. The scoop:

When Diane Wickberg went to vote in a May special election in Flagstaff, Arizona, she was wearing a T-shirt bearing an emblem on both sides that included the phrase "We the People," a depiction of the American flag and the U.S. Constitution, and the words "Flagstaff Tea Party—Reclaiming Our Constitution Now." Two poll workers ordered her to change or cover her shirt…..Coconino County Recorder Candace Owens later warned her that she would not be allowed to vote at a polling station in the county again if she wore the shirt…..

a lawsuit filed in September with the help of the Goldwater Institute, an Arizona-based think tank….charges that threatening to deprive Wickberg of her voting rights for wearing a Tea Party shirt violates her First Amendment right to free expression.

A happy ending to this one, announced this month by the Goldwater Institute in a press release:

Coconino County has accepted a settlement in a federal lawsuit filed by the Goldwater Institute on behalf of Flagstaff voter Diane Wickberg…..

Coconino County has agreed to implement objective standards at voting precincts to enforce the state electioneering law while protecting the voters' right to free speech…..

Specifically, Coconino County's new rules define electioneering to provide that only conduct that advocates for or against a candidate, a political party, or an issue on the ballot may be banned at the polling site. The County has also agreed to provide additional training to poll workers for objective enforcement of election laws and to protect against discrimination in the polling place.

While I question the First Amendment bona fides of even the milder version of "electioneering" law implicit here–advocate for candidates or parties in a peaceful manner in whatever way you want wherever you want, say I, even near the polling place where it might matter the most–it's a nice victory for political speech even in its limited context.