ACLU Opposes Polling Place Ban on Political Buttons
Posted: November 09, 2011|Category: Free Speech
The RI ACLU testified yesterday against proposed state Board of Elections' regulations that would bar voters from wearing political buttons or clothing with political messages into polling places. The ACLU's testimony argued that in addition to raising First Amendment concerns, such a restriction was inconsistent with state law provisions defining improper "electioneering."
The ACLU noted that the state should have a compelling reason before restricting the exercise of First Amendment activities relating to elections, and that a person's passive and silent display of a political button while waiting in line to vote hardly represented the sort of undue influence or intimidation that electioneering laws were designed to prevent.
The ACLU also pointed out the practical problems that would arise from enforcement of such a ban: "Will a voter wearing a button that says 'Help the Homeless' be ordered to take it off if the ballot contains a bond referendum for low-income housing? Is an Amnesty International T-shirt an illegal expression of opposition to any candidates running on a pro-death penalty platform? The inevitable arbitrary enforcement of such a ban only heightens the legal and practical concerns with such a proposal." The ACLU argued that election officials had more important responsibilities and concerns to deal with on election day than censoring political buttons.
After hearing the ACLU's testimony, the Board agreed to postpone a vote on the matter until January in order to consider the issues further.