Candidate T-Shirts: Electioneering or Free Speech?
Pennsylvania is fighting over rules banning the wear of campaign clothing at the polling booth.
Sue Nace thought election volunteers were joking when they told her she would have to remove her T-shirt to vote in the presidential primary last spring. But it was no laughing matter to the poll workers-turned-fashion police, who said Nace’s Obama shirt was inappropriate electioneering — and made her cover the writing before casting a ballot.
Now, a political fight over what voters can wear to the polls is headed to court in Pennsylvania — with the Republican Party favoring a dress code and Democrats opposed. To the GOP, the lack of rules could open the door to all kinds of questionable displays — even, one Republican leader suggested, something as outlandish as a musical hat. To the Democrats, voters should be free to express themselves. They fear a dress code could scare away some new voters.
But two Pittsburgh-area elections officials sued to have the memo rescinded. Their lawsuit warned that if the memo stands, “nothing would prevent a partisan group from synchronizing a battalion of like-minded individuals … to descend on a polling place, presenting a domineering, united front, certain to dissuade the average citizen who may privately hold different beliefs.”
I’ve long been dubious of these sort of electioneering rules, never understanding precisely what public interest was so great as to justify overturning people’s right to free speech. How many people really show up at the voting booth prepared to vote for Candidate A but wind up voting instead for Candidate B because they happened to see a sign 97 feet from the door? It seems to me we’d be far better off figuring out how to keep people that stupid and impressionable from voting, period, rather than trying to priviledge their latest whim as somehow binding.