Kraft v. Harhut, et al.

Voters not allowed to wear T-shirts endorsing candidates at polling places

Court/Assoc.: Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

Attorneys/Firms: Steve Harvey, Seth Oltman, & William Taylor (Pepper Hamilton); Witold Walczak (ACLU-PA)

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.

In early September 2008, two Allegheny County elections officials sued the Pennsylvania election officials claiming that an advisory to County Boards of Election issued in early September was "illegal." The lawsuit claims that allowing partisan messages on voters' clothing would "affect the health and safety of voters."

Attorneys for the Secretary of State's office filed papers opposing the lawsuit. The ACLU-PA seeks to join the commonwealth in challenging any effort to enforce a state-wide dress code for voters.

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