Like most states, Arizona law bans electioneering from inside a polling place, meaning that buttons or t-shirts that endorse a candidate or cause must be covered up. That hasn’t stopped a conservative group from filing a federal lawsuit to try and allow voters the ability to wear tea party shirts to the polls.
The Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation filed suit on behalf of Diane Wickberg, a 55-year-old grandmother and resident of Coconino County who was stopped at the polls in May for wearing a shirt that read “Flagstaff Tea Party-Reclaiming Our Constitution Now.” After arguing with poll workers that the shirt didn’t suggest voting for or against a particular measure–in this case a temporary sales tax increase that was at issue–she was allowed to vote because no other voters were at the polling station at the time.
Wickberg showed some pluck and wore the shirt again, this time in the state’s August 24th primary. She was again told to cover her shirt and to hide, while voting, her association with the group.
The suit seeks to allow Wickberg (and presumably others) the right to wear their tea party shirts in the November 2 general election. According to the Goldwater group, barring the shirt is an overly broad interpretation of local election laws that unreasonably interferes with citizens’ speech rights.
Election workers have defended their decisions and insist they should have the right to evaluate whether or not a particular item qualifies as electioneering on a case-by-case basis. According to Arizona assistant secretary of state Jim Drake, its not as simple as asking whether or not an item does or does not endorse a candidate or position. The tea party is a perfect example since candidates have been dubbed “tea party favorites” and such a notation qualifies as an endorsement of sorts. To wear a tea party t-shirt to the polls in such a case could easily amount to electioneering.
Given the focus on November, and the battle in the right between tea party candidates and establishment Republicans, I’d expect to see a lot more of these kinds of battles.
photo courtesy of hijl via Flickr