HARRISBURG, PA - In response to a request from the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Secretary of State's office has notified county election boards that voters who wear partisan political buttons, stickers, and t-shirts to their polling places on Election Day should be allowed to vote.
The ACLU received complaints from individuals in Mt. Lebanon, PA, and Ardmore, PA, who were prohibited from voting in the April 2008 primary because they were wearing t-shirts endorsing candidates for office in the polling place. The ACLU has received similar complaints in recent elections from voters in other parts of Allegheny County as well as Lancaster and York counties.
The Pennsylvania election code prohibits "electioneering" within 10 feet of polling places, but does not define the term. As a result, county election boards and individual poll workers have interpreted the code in different ways. In its August 14 letter, the ACLU asked Secretary Pedro Cortés to provide clarification on this issue to county election boards.
In a September 4 memorandum sent to all county elections boards, Chet Harhut, the Commissioner of the Pennsylvania Department of State's Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation (BCEL), wrote that commonwealth election officials believe that if voters "take no additional action to attempt to influence other voters in the polling place, then the wearing of clothing or buttons" supporting a candidate or political party would not constitute illegal "electioneering" under Pennsylvania law.
"Good reasons exist to restrict active electioneering in voting areas, but a voter simply expressing his or her political preference on clothing is a form or protected speech and should not be prohibited," said Witold Walczak, Legal Director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "Your First Amendment rights shouldn't depend on where you happen to vote."
Poll workers, poll watchers and others performing official election-day duties are still prohibited from wearing clothing or other items with partisan messages at polling places.
The ACLU of Pennsylvania is sending letters this week to the 67 county elections boards asking for assurance that they will allow voters to wear partisan attire to vote, so long as they do not engage in active electioneering while doing so.
A copy of the ACLU request letter to Secretary Cortés can be found here.
A copy of Commissioner Harhut's letter to the county boards of elections can be found here.