Minnesota Wants to Tell Voters How to Dress at the Polls
The outcome of this legal case could have far-reaching free speech implications.
Can a t-shirt destroy democracy?
On February 28, the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing arguments on the case of Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, regarding Minnesota Statute Section 211B.11(1). But, essentially, they’ll be talking about t-shirts.
The lawsuit revolves around dress codes in polling places.
Currently Minnesota is one of ten states that restricts the type of apparel voters can wear to the polls on Election Day. The statute in question prohibits political paraphernalia in polling places — we’re talking hats, t-shirts, buttons — relating to the election or political issues in general.
This is where the law can stir up controversy because, while it’s clear that voters can’t wear campaign buttons at a polling place, what about a t-shirt supporting gun rights, unionization, or other organizations, such as the American Legion, the N.A.A.C.P., or the N.R.A.?
Enter the Minnesota Voters Alliance.
The case can be traced back to an incident when the founder of the nonprofit, Andre Cilek, entered a polling place wearing Tea Party paraphernalia, including a button that said “Please I.D. Me.” Although the law could not prohibit him from voting, Cliek was asked to cover his button and risked prosecution for disobeying the poll workers.
Although this may seem like a hot button issue now — no pun intended — the law has actually been in effect since 1912.
Opposers of the law think that it directly violates the first amendment’s right to freedom of speech, while supporters of the law pointed to the Supreme Court’s decision in Burson v. Freeman to uphold a buffer zone around polling places for political signs and posters.
However, no matter which side of the argument you’re on, many voters agree that the current law is too broad, leaving it up to last-minute interpretation by poll workers on election to decide what is too political for the polling place.
While the law in Minnesota was upheld in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals last year, there’s a lot of speculation on what the Supreme Court will be deciding this month, as the decision could have a major impact on the polls for years to come.
So, stay tuned, and don’t pick out that Election Day outfit just yet.
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