FYI: Passive Electioneering in IL

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.

27 thoughts on “FYI: Passive Electioneering in IL

  1. What’s the fear? That someone on their way to vote will suddenly be swayed by a flashy pin or tshirt? We voters are so very fickle.

  2. Oh wow, that’s so weird.

    The first time I could vote in a UK general election was in 1997, and as a Labour supporter at the time, with the prospect of the first non-Conservative government within my memory (and within my sister’s lifetime), I was so looking forward to it. I walked to the polls in the sunshine with a fake tattoo of a red rose on my arm, and a home-made badge (button) of a red rose cut from a labour sticker on a bright yellow background.

    OK, those are pretty tame, but I’m pretty sure I could have worn whatever I wanted.

    Over here we restrict the candidate and their team on how much they’re allowed to spend on their campaign, but I don’t think there are any restrictions on their supporters, you know, showing their support. I could be wrong :-)

  3. That’s absolutely ridiculous! If folk are sporting bumper stickers, teeshirts, badges, etc. all over town, and if the media is full of nothing else but the election for months on end, people are exposed to this stuff everywhere every single day. What kind of an idiot thinks seeing an Obama tee at the polling station could possibly cause a diehard McCain supporter to crack at the last minute? Patronising much?

  4. A campaigner outside a polling station in the UK did once affect my vote. A chap with an SNP rosette offered to look after my bicycle while I voted, which was the only effort to appeal to me that any party had made at all. I lived at the time in such a safe Labour seat that nobody bothered leafletting or canvassing our crime-ridden area. So I voted SNP instead of Green as I’d planned, not that it made any difference either way.

    (Come to think of it, this would have been a better story if he and the bike were gone when I came out again. )

  5. Kate, you might want to update your post with this information since it isn’t on the Snopes page. It might not get noticed down in the comments.

    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.

  6. I’ve been a campaign manager in central IL for two past election cycles and it’s been that way a long time. You need to cover or remove candidate items on your body. I’ve had the cops called on me for electioneering when I went to help out in Lake Co in 2002, but nothing like that ever happened downstate.

  7. I think (or hope) that at least part of it isn’t so much worrying that voters will be swayed at the last minute by campaign materials as trying to protect them from being harassed. Since votes are private, this creates a space where, at least in theory, nobody knows who you’re voting for and thus can’t pressure you to vote another way.

  8. Well, here in Tennessee (which will surely go for McCain) the husband wore his Obama pin (which he has been wearing EVERYWHERE) to the polls when we early-voted. No one said a word. Not sure what the official policy is here, though. They just might not have noticed it.

  9. The sample ballot for Florida says:

    “No person or group may solicit Voters inside the polling place. Subject to the exception below, no person or group may solicit Voters within 100 feet of the entrance to the polling place or early voting site.

    The only exception is for the media or others conducting exit-polling activities by approaching Voters after they leave the polling place.”

    I imagine this is the aegis.

  10. Whoa, that article was a .pdf! The suddenly downloading file freaked me out. Might want to put a little warning next to the link that it’s a .pdf, because the mouseover doesn’t show that. Thanks!

  11. I think here you can’t get any campaign materials without 100 feet of a pollling place. I’ll be surprised if even 5% of this city goes for McCain. I live in a bubble, the most liberal neighborhood in one of the most liberal towns. It’s actually startling to see McCain/Palin bumper stickers, and usually they’re on huge Hummers that can’t find anywhere to park, especially if they’re worried about keeping their car safe.

  12. I think (or hope) that at least part of it isn’t so much worrying that voters will be swayed at the last minute by campaign materials as trying to protect them from being harassed.

    I’m pretty sure that’s the idea behind these kinds of laws, too. But there are a lot of rumors flying around, so I’m glad that Snopes has organized some info.

  13. As someone who has worked the polls in California, I can tell you that those rules have everything to do with making sure that voters do not feel intimidated, harassed, or pressured. I find it intriguing (and I say this just as an observation) that it’s primarily Obama supporters who are complaining about the laws against passive electioneering. Maybe the Republicans are so confident about stealing it that they don’t care about whether or not they can wear election gear to the polls. Personally, I think that passive electioneering laws are sensible, and I totally support them.

    That said, I have been hearing unconfirmed rumours about people being denied the right to vote because they were wearing campaign gear, and that is wrong. Poll workers can ask people to cover it up, but they cannot disenfranchise people! I’d be curious to see any of these rumours substantiated.

  14. Meloukhia, I hope it didn’t sound like I was complaining about it. I was just pointing it out as something for people to be aware of.

    I would also say, however, that it’s probably Obama supporters talking about this because it’s usually Democratic voters — especially poor people and people of color — who find themselves bullied away from the polls for any number of bullshit reasons.

  15. Oh yeah, and I’m totally with you there; low income individuals, people of color, and people of lesser educational status are definitely profiled at the polls, and that is a terrible, terrible thing. I realized that my comment makes me come off as some sort of right-wing troll, which is, er, not me at all. And I didn’t mean to say that you were complaining, but rather that in the vast majority of discussions I’ve seen about this, it’s Obama supporters talking about wearing Obama gear, and I find that intriguing. What I apparently left out of my comment because I hadn’t had my tea yet was that I was also curious to know if McCain supporters haven’t been talking about it because they haven’t been asked to cover up campaign gear, which would be sinister indeed.

  16. I realized that my comment makes me come off as some sort of right-wing troll, which is, er, not me at all.

    Oh, I didn’t think that! I totally take your point. A lot of lefty people don’t seem to get that the rule is in place to prevent exactly the kind of intimidation that is more likely to hit Democratic voters, not to hinder freedom of expression.

  17. An important point: Even if you live in a state without passive electioneering rules, the poll workers are just regular people and they have heard the same rumors you have. If they haven’t explicitly been told otherwise, they may assume that the rules are in effect. Free speech is perhaps our greatest right, but at the same time, it’s easier on you, them, and the people behind you in line if you just wear your Baby Donuts shirt regardless of what state you live in.

  18. Yeah, I was going to bring up the prevention of intimidation/privacy of vote thing, but a couple folk beat me to it.

    When I’m getting ready to vote, I always make sure I have no buttons, tee shirts, badges, stickers, etc. about my person. The closest I want to get to indulging in passive electioneering on election day is my tradition of wearing the ‘I voted’ sticker the polls around these parts hand out on my cheek for the rest of the time I’m out in public as a reminder to others to participate in the process, whatever their views may be.

    To my mind, the time for campaigning ends on the morning of the election. Then we all need to make our voices heard and prepare to cope with the outcome, whether we like what it is or not.

    That said, I’m seriously hoping to wake up on a Wednesday morning in November to the news that the United States has elected its first African-American president. And when that happens (hey, I’m going to be as positive as possible until I have reason to be otherwise!) I’m going to celebrate with baby-flavored donuts and sparkly, awesome clothes.

  19. I have an Obama bottle-cap pendant, that’ll tuck into my cleavage to vote; and pins are easy enough to remove. I guess the moral is, don’t wear an Obama bikini and nothing else to the polls (and I live near the beach, so that could happen). Save the Obama bikini for the party later? ;)

  20. Lexy, I was wearing my pajamas! In Oregon, natch. I did have to get dressed to drop my ballot off at the library, though. I think EVERYONE should be able to vote by mail! None of these problems.

  21. Speaking of voting by mail–remember to use correct postage. The ballots for some California locations are so thick that they need 57c to return. I heard last night that the post office has agreed to return them even with only one stamp, but in other places, failure to use sufficient postage might get your vote lost in the system. Don’t take that chance.

  22. This has been the policy for decades in most states — no passive electioneering within a set distance of the polls — but unfortunately isn’t as well publicized as it should be so there are always some people caught by surprise when they get to the polls. I think it would be more of a problem in southern states than in northern, because if you’re voting in someplace like Wisconsin or North Dakota odds are you’ve got a jacket on so can cover up. And with early voting if you are dressed in a way that can’t be fixed on the spot, you’ve got time to go home, change, and come back another day. I noticed when I voted a couple days ago the signs said no campaigning within 150 of the polls. From what I could see, no one out of the hundreds of people there (we were in line for over two hours) had shown up wearing any campaign gear (tee-shirts, buttons, whatever) so most people do know the rules.

    I think we should be worried more about the real voter intimidation and suppression going on, like here in Georgia where something like 50,000 people have received letters telling them they’re being purged from the voter rolls because they’re not citizens. CNN interviewed an African-American college student yesterday who got one of those letters — she was born in Boston, Massachusetts.

  23. New York claims to have that law (according to the pdf), but when I voted in the primary I had a “Hillary” button right front and center on my bag and no one said anything (until I was walking home – but I was used to, as a Clinton supporter, being yelled at by the Obama fans because of my pin – I rudeness *I* never returned).

  24. Good point, Penny. The Colorado ballot is so long this year that it will take $1.17 to mail back! Due to some glitch, I haven’t received mine yet, though I allegedly should tomorrow. Nerve-wracking — I haven’t voted by mail before, and I’m paranoid that it somehow won’t be counted.

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