Fight for your right to T-shirts

You want to wear a campaign T-shirt, button or sticker into the polling place? The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, The Rutherford Institute and the ACLU of Virginia are with you.
“Election Day should be a time for celebrating the personal freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution. On that of all days, government should not be telling citizens how to express themselves,” said Bob O’Neil, director of the Charlottesville-based Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, which is joining with its free-speech partners in a lawsuit against the State Board of Elections and registrars in Richmond and Fairfax County challenging a new state policy prohibiting the wearing of campaign-themed apparel in polling places.

The suit was filed on behalf of Fairfax County resident Jill Borak and Richmond resident Charles Epes, both of whom were told by local polling officials on Election Day that they had to remove or cover up campaign apparel while in the polling place.

The State Board of Elections adopted the policy based on a broadly worded state law that prohibits the exhibition of campaign materials to another person near or in a polling place. The board amended an earlier order to clarify that voters who refused to comply with orders from polling officials would not be barred from voting, but election workers were required to file reports on any such refusals with their local Commonwealth’s attorney, presumably for the initiation of proceedings for criminal prosecution.

“Thomas Jefferson understood that the first duty of government is to protect the freedom of expression,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Regrettably, the State Board of Elections shirked this important civic duty when it adopted what essentially amounts to a dress code policy.”

“The State Board of Elections has not only misinterpreted the state law,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis, “but in the process it has unnecessarily and unconstitutionally banned passive personal expression that has no history whatsoever of disrupting the voting process.”

  

– Story by Chris Graham


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