Should voters be told what not to wear?

Monday, January 15, 2018
Chris Woodward (

"I voted today" t-shirtSupreme Court justices will decide later this year what people can and cannot wear at the polling place.

The case is Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky. Arguments are scheduled for February 28th, and the issue is whether Minnesota statute Section 211B.11, which broadly bans all political apparel at the polling place, is facially overbroad under the First Amendment. (See earlier story)

"This case involves a law that makes it against the rules for you to wear clothing, or a button, or a hat that has the logo of any organization with identifiable political views," says Tim Sandefur of Arizona-based Goldwater Institute. "Now, what does that mean? It basically means whatever the government says it means."

Sandefur's organization filed a brief in support of the Minnesota Voters Alliance, as the Goldwater Institute is familiar with the situation, having argued similar cases about political apparel policies in Flagstaff and Phoenix.

"This was actually almost ten years ago," recalls Sandefur. "Government officials in Flagstaff and Phoenix prohibited tea party members from wearing t-shirts that said 'Tea Party' or had the Gadsden flag [captioned] 'Don't Tread on Me' when they went to the polling place. We had to go to court over this, and we won both of those cases."

At that time, the court in Arizona ruled this was discrimination and a violation of a person's right to speak freely under the First Amendment.

"This Minnesota case is even worse," Sandefur thinks. "It's so broadly worded that, as one of the judges in the case admitted, it would prohibit a person from wearing a t-shirt that had a Star of David on it, or the AFL-CIO logo on it, or something. That's absurd."

According to Sandefur, the government should ensure that the polling place is orderly, respectful, and quiet, "but it has no business acting like a busy body and telling people what kind of messages they can wear on their t-shirts when it's not causing a disruption," he says.

Pacific Legal Foundation is representing Minnesota Voters Alliance.

Joe Mansky, elections manager for Ramsey County, tells OneNewsNow he cannot comment about this matter while it is in litigation.

"You can wear a shirt that says 'Nike,' but you can't wear a shirt that says 'ACLU,' or 'Rush Limbaugh' ... to the polling place?" Sandefur continues. "That doesn't make sense. And it's so broadly worded that it encourages the polling place workers to discriminate against people and to tell them that they're not welcome there. And simply put, if there is a law that says you're not allowed to wear the American flag or the word 'liberty' on your shirt while you're voting at the polling place, that law is probably unconstitutional."

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