Home Virginia: Freedom of expression ends at polling-place door

Virginia: Freedom of expression ends at polling-place door


Story by Chris Graham
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The State Board of Elections voted today to ban clothing and hats and other campaign materials that directly advocate the election or defeat of a specific candidate or issue from polling places in Virginia.

The American Civil Liberties Union had challenged a prohibition handed down last month by the State Board based on a narrow reading of Virginia election law that mandates that “it shall be unlawful for any authorized representative, voter, or any other person in the room to … give, tender, or exhibit any ballot, ticket, or other campaign material to any person.” The Augusta Free Press had raised an objection to the prohibition to to the ACLU of Virginia after a news release was issued by Waynesboro voter registrar Mary Alice Downs last month in the wake of the announcement of the prohibition by the SBE.

“A voter “exhibit[ing] … campaign material” would probably be asked by the officers, if they notice it, to remove or cover the campaign material while they are inside the polling place and prohibited area,” Rosanna Bencoach, the policy manager for the State Board of Elections, wrote in an e-mail to voter registrars in Virginia dated Sept. 24.

“Enforcement of this section is assigned to the Officers of Election, who are appointed and supervised by the local Electoral Board, so while enforcement may vary somewhat in different localities, the law does prohibit “exhibit[ing] … campaign material” within 40 feet of any entrance to a polling place, or inside the room. A violation of this law is a Class 1 misdemeanor,” Bencoach wrote in the e-mail.

A Class 1 misdemeanor for wearing an Obama-Biden or McCain-Palin button or T-shirt or hat to the polls. You have been forewarned.

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