Local / Politics / Virginia

What can you wear to the polls?

I cannot count the number of emails I have received that I have received from various sources regarding the wearing of campaign t-shirts, hats, buttons, etc., to the polls. I understand they are circulating nationally. All of them say the same thing: that if someone wears those items, they will be turned away and not allowed to vote. As is generally the case, rumors spread quicker than the truth.

In response, the Democratic Party of Virginia put out this statement earlier today, from Nancy Rodrigues, Secretary of the State Board of Elections:

Voters who bring campaign materials to the polling place may be asked to remove or cover it up while at the polling place.  The Code of Virginia creates a neutral zone of 40 feet around a polling place where no campaigning may occur.  (See § 24.2-604 of the Code of Virginia.)  For example, a voter may be asked to remove a campaign sticker or button if you wear it in the polling place.  Voters may be asked to cover up a shirt that advocates for a particular candidate.  And any loose campaign material (such as signs, pamphlets, or balloons) must be left outside of the polling place.  These rules allow voters a safe zone whereby they can vote in private and without distraction or interference.  Voters who have questions about the specific policies in their locality, please contact their local Electoral Board.

The Hampton registrar has been even more explicit in the information she is providing voters who question what they can wear to the polls:

Regarding voters inside the polling place when they go to vote, § 24.-604 of the Code of Virginia provides (in part):

A. During the times the polls are open and ballots are being counted, it shall be unlawful for any person (i) to loiter or congregate within 40 feet of any entrance of any polling place; (ii) within such distance to give, tender, or exhibit any ballot, ticket, or other campaign material to any person or to solicit or in any manner attempt to influence any person in casting his vote; or (iii) to hinder or delay a qualified voter in entering or leaving a polling place. …

D. It shall be unlawful for any authorized representative, voter, or any other person in the room to (i) hinder or delay a qualified voter; (ii) give, tender, or exhibit any ballot, ticket, or other campaign material to any person; (iii) solicit or in any manner attempt to influence any person in casting his vote; (iv) hinder or delay any officer of election; or (v) otherwise impede the orderly conduct of the election.

E. The officers of election may require any person who is found by a majority of the officers present to be in violation of this section to remain outside of the prohibited area. Any person violating subsection A or D of this section shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor….

Enforcement of this section is assigned to the Officers of Election, who are appointed and supervised by the local Electoral Board 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 (see http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+18.2-11).

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.

Outside of the polling place or the 40-foot prohibited area, state law has nothing else to say on the subject beyond the requirement for reporting of campaign finance matters.

These are the rules in Virginia. If you live outside Virginia, please check with your own voter registrar to get the rules in your state.

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29 thoughts on “What can you wear to the polls?

  1. If you are a campaign worker, your table, etc, has to be 40 feet away from the door where the voters come in. If I or any other worker enters the voting area to get a count during the day, I take off my button/stickers, etc.
    That is the law.
    There is also no electioneering by candidates.
    I have NEVER had anyone not get to vote who comes in and has a button,etc, who is NOT AN ELECTION WORKER.
    We will address this tonite at our committee meeting and get back with any new info.

  2. We have a right to wear whatever we want when we exercise our right to vote. This is political speech, clearly protected by the First Amendment. If somebody is denied the right to vote because they’re wearing an Obama shiRt, we should be worried about the personal liability of the election worker who made that decision, not about the “rule.” Campaigning within 40 feet is another matter, though. It can be prohibited, and is.

  3. This came up in the last presidential election year as I was a poll volunteer in Virginia Beach.

    Outside of the 40 ft limit, I asked people if they wanted a sticker for our candidate before they entered the building.

    There was a very riled up Repub. volunteer worker beside me who had the election official come out and tell me to stop giving the folks a sticker to wear because it is illegal.

    I told the election official that he was flat wrong in denying the voters’ first amendment rights and that i wanted to hear that from someone above him.

    He later came out and apologized- that the complainers were wrong and that it was fine to give the voters a sticker for their lapel before they entered the voting area.

  4. spotter & ppander – I hope you all read that the information from the DPVA came from the SBE Secretary. The rules are, apparently, going to be enforced this year: no campaign materials within 40 feet. And this is going to apply to both poll workers and voters.

    If you have a problem with it, take it up with the SBE.

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  6. And thanks to MB’s link, you can read this post which says:

    It is true that (a) that jurisdictions can constitutionally ban the wearing of campaign stickers/buttons/t-shirts in and around polling places, and (b) many jurisdictions do so. On (a), the legal eagles among us can review this 2001 DC Circuit opinion, which maintained that such viewpoint-neutral restrictions are constitutional means of protecting the orderly conduct of elections, creating “a neutral zone within the polling place, preventing altercations over hot-button issues, intimidation of voters, eleventh hour smear campaigns and the like,” and safeguarding citizens’ ability to “vote freely for the candidates of their choice … in an election conducted with integrity and reliability.”

  7. Last numbers I saw was that somewhere around 14% of voters make their minds up at the polls!

    I think that depends the election. In a contest like Obama/McCain, the vast majority of people will have made up their minds months before the election. Recent opinion polls suggest that no more than 5-8% of the electorate remains undecided.

    In a low-profile school board election, though, 14% might be an understatement. Same with judicial elections (in states that have them), where probably 80% of voters know nothing about the candidates and often can’t rely on party labels to help them out.

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  9. PERCEPTION IS NOT NECESSARILY REALITY … DON’T BELIEVE THE POLLS …
    Obama supporters act as if the polls are a true reflection of what’s going to happen on November 4th. When you don’t have an actual record to run on … and all you can do is point out problems, and blame others, as Obama has, you have to rely on gimmicks that have nothing to do with your actual ability to lead … like accusations of racism ad nauseam … like early voting …busing and indoctrinating homeless people on the way to the polls … photo ops with big crowds … spending 4 to 1 on advertising … having the media in the tank … having Hollywood in the tank, having Acorn in the tank … and, having 98% of all black voters in the tank. But, all of these things are nothing more than a fabricated perception. They have nothing to do with a person’s experience, or ability to lead. They just reveal a candidate who will say, or do anything to get elected. That’s why the Obamabots are so worried. That’s why Obama is telling his disciples not to get over confident. That’s why the Obama campaign tries real hard to make it look like Obama has already won … just like they did in the run against Hillary in the primaries. I happen to believe there are legions of people who are going to vote for McCain on November 4th … unlike the ‘in your face’ Obama supporters, November 4th is when the McCain supporters will express themselves. A vote for Obama is a vote for voter fraud, corrupt media, and a road to socialism. Keep America safe and strong, elect McCain/Palin on November 4th.

  10. I was just asked to remove an Obama hat at the Fairfax County Government Center (on October 23rd) because it is a Polling Place. I did not think this rule applied to people who were not voting on a day that is not Election Day. Where can I find out the exact wording of this regualtion?

  11. John – The code section is referenced in the original post above but you can find a direct link to it in this post. Were you voting at the time when you were asked to remove you hat? If yes, then the rule applied.

  12. John Mccain sucks. He is the worst person for our country right now. He doesn’t have any plans for our future. He only cares about sending money to win wars we have no business being in. He is a disrespectful lil ba$tard. He has no education plan, no health care plan, matter of fact when he is in debates the only thing he does is give shoutouts to replublicun supporters of him and talk about the same things over and over and over. And the other thing he does is jade Barack Obama and talk about how he is a terrorist and a socialist. How about come up with plans instead of trying to talk about Obama, cause IT’S NOT WORKING.

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