• WisPolitics


Monday, November 3, 2008

 4:07 PM 

GAB spokesman: Political attire at polling places a 'gray area'

Election officials are urging people to carefully consider whether to wear attire such as shirts, hats and buttons with political messages on them to polling places on Election Day. And despite guidance from the Government Accountability Board to the contrary, some communities won't allow political gear at all

GAB spokesman Kyle Richmond said that while attempting to influence someone's vote within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place is prohibited, it's not illegal for people to wear attire with political messages when they go to vote.

But Richmond said the issue is a "gray area," and if a person's attire becomes a disturbance or people complain about it, the chief election inspector at the polling place can ask the person to remove or cover items with political messages on them and ask the person to leave if he or she is causing a disturbance.

Given the hotly contested election and potential for problems, Richmond said people should consider carefully what they wear to the polling place.

"We're trying to make people aware that, in order to avoid problems, it would probably be wiser not to wear that stuff to the polls," Richmond said. "But it's not illegal."

City of Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Sue Edman said the city is following the GAB's guidance, and people will be allowed to wear political gear when voting. But they may not loiter at the polling place.

Edman echoed Richmond's advice that the best way for people to avoid any conflict will be to leave the political gear at home when they go to vote.

Clerks and staffers in several other Wisconsin communities, including Green Bay, Racine, Waukesha and La Crosse, all said that political attire is OK, as long as it didn't cause a disturbance or draw complaints.

In cases where it does cause a problem, those WisPolitics talked to generally said the people may be asked to remove the item, or in the cases of items such as shirts, to cover them or turn them inside out.

Not every community, however, is permitting political clothing and flair at the polls.

Marinette City Clerk Jim Anderson disputed the GAB's interpretation of the electioneering statute and said political attire will not be allowed in the city's polling places.

"It's considered electioneering if they have a (political) shirt or hat or button when they come to a poling place," Anderson said.

While the city will not allow political gear, "we're not going to go out of our way to cause a scene or a big hassle," Anderson said.

He said the city sends out news releases in advance so people are aware of the rules.

"We've never really had a problem with it," Anderson said. "People seem to be pretty good about it."

"It's a state statute. If you don't like it, change it."

Richmond said GAB legal counsel told him he sees nothing in state law that would allow an outright ban on political attire at the polling place.

See information on voting in Wisconsin:
http://elections.state.wi.us/section.asp?linkid=270&locid=47

-- By David Wise

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