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Home --> Politics --> Ballot Box --> Passive Electioneering

Passive Electioneering

Claim:   U.S. election boards will be enforcing rules against passive electioneering on Election Day 2008.

Status:   Multiple — see below.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, September 2008]

The text below is very important information that we all need to share.

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE ADVISE EVERYONE YOU KNOW THAT THEY ABSOLUTELY CAN NOT GO TO THE POLLS WEARING ANY OBAMA SHIRTS, PINS OR HATS, IT IS AGAINST THE LAW AND WILL BE GROUNDS TO HAVE THE POLLING OFFICIALS TO TURN YOU AWAY.

THAT IS CONSIDERED CAMPAIGNING AND NO ONE CAN CAMPAIGN WITHIN X AMOUNT OF FEET TO THE POLLS. THEY ARE BANKING ON US BEING EXCITED AND NOT BEING AWARE OF THIS LONG STANDING LAW THAT YOU CAN BET WILL BE ENFORCED THIS YEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

THEY ARE BANKING THAT IF ARE TURNED AWAY YOU WILL NOT GO HOME AND CHANGE YOUR CLOTHES.. PLEASE JUST DON'T WEAR OBAMA GEAR OF ANY SORTS TO THE POLLS!! PLEASE SHARE THIS INFORMATION, OH AND FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO WERE ALREADY AWARE THIS WAS NOT MEANT TO INSULT YOUR INTELLIGENCE.

JUST TRYING TO COVER ALL GROUNDS.

Origins:   Election laws and regulations in the U.S. typically prohibit the practice of "electioneering" (actively supporting a candidate, political party, or issue) within or near polling places. Such rules have generally been applied to prevent overt electioneering: posting signs or banners; passing out pamphlets, flyers, or other literature; making oral exhortions, etc. Recently, however, movements in some states have sought to have bans on electioneering enforced against "passive electioneering" as well — the wearing by voters of buttons, pins, hats, t-shirts, and other adornments bearing the names of candidates.

The issue is a murky one without any definitive answer because laws vary from state to state, state laws may prohibit electioneering without defining the term, and the definition of "electioneering" can vary from place to place within a state when the issue is left up to local election boards to define, as is currently the case in Pennsylvania:
In
past years, some local election officials across Pennsylvania have enforced the provision [against passive electioneering], going as far as asking voters to turn their T-shirts inside out.

But this year, the Rendell administration has softened its stance on the issue.

The ACLU and the League of Women Voters asked the Pennsylvania Department of State to weigh in on the topic, believing that preventing voters from wearing T-shirts with a candidate's name on it infringes on their freedom of speech.

Department of State officials sent letters to the state's 67 county boards of elections advising them that, although state law bans electioneering inside a polling place, it doesn't define what the term means.

Merely wearing shirts and buttons doesn't constitute electioneering as long as no other attempts to influence voters are made, the memo said. In short, the state is letting the county boards of elections decide whether to police what people wear.
Even when state officials try to clarify electioneering rules, the results can be a tangle of contradictory information:
[Kentucky] State Board of Elections attorney Katie Gabhart said the First Amendment right to free speech dictates that voters can wear what they want. But she warned that local authorities could try to press charges if someone were dressed like "a walking placard."

A Kentucky attorney general's opinion issued in 1992 said the First Amendment allows voters to wear T-shirts, buttons and other accessories. State Board of Elections Executive Director Sarah Ball Johnson said her agency still considers that opinion relevant.

Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, the state's top election official, said he would advise people not to wear campaign paraphernalia to avoid violating the law against campaigning at the polls.
Electioneering regulations apply to more than just items that display candidates' names. When voters in North Texas cast votes in 2004 with a ballot that included a measure on whether taxpayers should help fund the construction of a new $650 million stadium in Arlington for the Dallas Cowboys football team, they were cautioned not to wear apparel displaying the Cowboys logo or team colors to polling places:
A warning to Dallas Cowboys fans who plan to vote in the North Texas city of Arlington: Leave your team colors at home.

The Cowboys may be known as "America's Team," but polling places are no place for fan gear, election officials say — at least not this year.

Elections administrator Robert Parten said that voters sporting Cowboys logos at Arlington polling sites will be told to cover up their allegiance to the team if they want to cast ballots.

He said he ordered the prohibition because of a provision on the Arlington ballot that asks whether taxpayers should help pay for a $650 million Cowboys stadium in their city.

"Anytime you go into a polling place and what you're wearing shows something that's on the ballot, that's electioneering," Gayle Hamilton, assistant elections administrator for Tarrant County, said.
It's up to voters to be aware of what the regulations are at their local polling places; if you can't get (or don't have time to find) a definitive answer about what constitutes electioneering where you vote, you may want to leave apparel (or other decorative items) bearing the names of candidates home on election day, or at least be prepared to remove it if asked. (For example, if you're going to wear an "Obama" or "McCain" shirt to a polling place, be sure to bring some other clothing you can change into or cover up with just in case.) In general, you should not be denied permission to vote for violating passive electioneering regulations; you should just be asked to leave the polling place and remove the items in question from public view before you re-enter. (Electioneering can be a violation of state law, typically a misdemeanor, so perpetrators run the risk of being detained and/or arrested, but this outcome is unlikely save for cases of repeated or flagrant violations.)

A survey of state laws regarding the wearing of political buttons to polling places compiled in 2006 can be viewed here.

Last updated:   4 October 2008

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  Sources Sources:
    Alford, Roger.   "Kentucky Voters Can Sport Barack Buttons, McCain Caps."
    Associated Press.   25 September 2008.

    Cattabiani, Mario F.   "GOP Seeks Ban on Political Clothing at Polling Places."
    Philadelphia Enquirer.   18 September 2008.

    Raffaele, Martha.   "GOP, Democrats Battle in Pa. Over Voter Dress Code."
    Associated Press.   4 October 2008.

    Associated Press.   "Stadium Vote Makes Team Colors 'Electioneering'."
    ESPN.com.   19 October 2004.