- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Virginia this year has joined 10 other states and the District in banning voters from wearing clothing, buttons and other paraphernalia that endorses a candidate or issue.

The State Board of Elections on Tuesday voted to ban clothing and hats as well as buttons and anything that directly advocates the election or defeat of a specific candidate or measure. The ban is effective inside polling places or a long-established perimeter of 40 feet from polling place entrances.

Virginia’s State Board of Elections said the policy was drafted in response to repeated questions from local election officials and voters across the state about whether such apparel was permissible.

Unanimously passed by a 3-0 vote, the policy drew protests from the Virginia ACLU but support from another voter advocacy group.

The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union argued that the ban violates the First Amendment right to free speech. The board, however, said it has to weigh that against the right to vote free of undue influence or the tension that candidate advocacy might create.

“As far as we are aware, no federal statute addresses this, but in our view the federal constitution addresses it,” said Rebecca K. Glenberg, legal director for the Virginia ACLU.

Virginia’s ban largely mirrors the District’s policy prohibiting outward signs of support for a candidate. Maryland law currently allows voters to “wear campaign paraphernalia (buttons, T-shirts or stickers) into the polling place while he or she is there to vote,” though the voter is not allowed to linger after voting.

“[Virginia polling officials] are supposed to ask you to take it off, cover it up, or turn it inside out. It’s not clear what would happen if you refused, or if you showed up five minutes to seven with your T-shirt and had no way to cover it up, nothing to change into, what would happen,” said Ms. Glenberg.

D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics spokesman Dan Murphy said that in the District, local precinct captains have jackets to help voters cover up in such cases.

The District’s policy survived a court challenge from a supporter of former Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who had shown up to vote all decked out in pro-Williams paraphernalia. In 2001, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld a U.S. District Court ruling that called the D.C. regulation “reasonable” and “viewpoint neutral.”

Efforts to enforce a similar ban are headed to court in Pennsylvania. At least four states — Maine, Montana, Vermont and Kansas — prohibit wearing campaign buttons, stickers and badges inside polling places.

In September, a Pennsylvania Department of State memo — not legally binding — advised counties that voters’ attire doesn’t matter as long as the “voter takes no additional action to attempt to influence other voters.” Two Pittsburgh-area elections officials sued to have the memo rescinded.

The two argued 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.”

Poll workers in Kentucky were told last month by election officials that they should admit voters with campaign apparel. E-mails had circulated warning that Obama supporters would be turned away if they wore shirts and pins.