I’m seeing a lot of talk about “passive electioneering” rules — i.e., the possibility that you could be turned away from voting if you show up at the polls wearing a T-shirt or button supporting a candidate. Snopes says it depends on the state and offers a handy article (pdf) that breaks down the state laws. Trouble is, upon skimming, I didn’t see anything in there about an Illinois law prohibiting voters from wearing campaign stuff, but I did see people get in trouble for it when I went to vote.
The good news is, no one was turned away. I saw one woman asked to remove an Obama button from her purse, and I stood in line behind a man wearing his T-shirt inside out. At first I didn’t get what that was about (fashion trend I’m not up on? bad eyes?), but then I overheard this conversation between him and the volunteer who set him up to vote:
Him: They made me turn my shirt inside out.
Volunteer: I know. It’s a nice shirt, sir. It’s a very nice shirt. But we can’t let you wear it in here.
When he turned around, I saw a vague, backwards outline of Obama’s face on his chest. A very nice shirt, indeed. Heh.
The bad news (in this context) is, I live in a ridiculously Democratic-leaning neighborhood. As in, the kind where an election volunteer can blatantly say, “It’s a very nice shirt” without fear of anything but a “Fuck yeah, it is!” from anyone who overheard. So if the polling station in my neighborhood was enforcing “passive electioneering” rules, you can bet it’s also happening other places — and in those places, the response may or may not be as simple as, “Go turn your shirt inside out.”
It might be that no one gives a rat’s ass in your neighborhood. It might be that “Turn it inside out” is the statewide policy, which will be enforced fairly and evenly. But still, if you haven’t gone to vote yet, I’d recommend not wearing anything that promotes a candidate. It’s just not worth the potential pain in the ass.
Update from JR about Virginia:
The law for Virginia has been updated and clarified since that article was written. I’m working at the polls this year, and we were explicitly told what is and is not acceptable inside the polling area.
No hats, buttons, stickers, bags, shirts, etc. that explicitly promote one candidate, party, or cause (ex. funding for schools, property tax change, etc.). The poll workers will ask you to remove these items or turn a shirt inside out. I know some polls will have baggy shirts (no idea how big) for people to wear as cover ups if they do not feel like inverting a shirt.
Please do not give pollworkers in Virginia and other states with similar laws a hard time about this. We are all putting in 15+ hour days on November 4 to make sure everyone can vote.
I know the ACLU was looking into challenging the law in Virginia, but I think they are going to wait until after the election to do anything. The law might change for the next election, but don’t do anything to prevent you from voting in this one.