Some free speech advocates want to know how things go if you wear an Obama T-shirt or a McCain button to the polls on Tuesday. As you have no doubt heard, the State Board of Elections says it is against the rules to wear campaign clothing into the voting booth. You may be asked to cover up or remove the offending advocacy.
Specifically, the policy reads as follows:
“No person shall show, display, or exhibit any material, object, item, advertisement, or piece of apparel, which has the purpose of expressly advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate or issue.”
Today, three Virginia-based free speech organizations announced plans to mount a post-election legal challenge to that policy. The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, The Rutherford Institute and the ACLU of Virginia say they expect to ask a federal court to strike down the policy as unconstitutional before the next state and local elections in 2009.
First, however, the organizations say they want to find out how the policy is enforced at the Virginia polls on Tuesday.
“Our focus right now is on finding out what actually happens to voters on Election Day,” said the ACLU’s Kent Willis. “Voters need to tell us their experiences so we’ll know how and where this unconstitutional rule is being enforced and what action we need to take.”
As if to chime in, the Washington and Lee law school today posts the views of its dean and First Amendment scholar Rodney A. Smolla: “I think we have a First Amendment right to wear T-shirts promoting our political preference, even to the polling place,” Smolla said.
By Peter Vieth