After an almost week-long wait to see who won the Presidential election, we finally have a decision. Maybe. While not everyone may be pleased with the outcome, I hope we can all agree that it’s nice to have the election behind us. Or at least the campaign ads!
Record numbers of voters turned out to cast their ballots, including historic numbers who voted by mail. For the first time, I voted by mail. It was pretty cool to cast my vote in my pjs at my kitchen table.
While it didn’t matter what I wore at home to vote, polling sites in Wisconsin actually have rules about what attire you can wear into a voting booth.
Tons of Americans sported t-shirts, buttons, hats and face coverings emblazoned with the name or slogan of the candidate they supported. However, wearing those items is not allowed at polling sites.
Chapter 12 of the Wisconsin Statutes regulates elections. In part, it states that “No person may engage in electioneering during polling hours on any public property on election day.” Under the statute, “electioneering” is defined as “any activity which is intended to influence voting at an election,” such as a MAGA hat or a Vote for Joe t-shirt.
Electioneering, however, also extends to the polling site’s parking lot. The rules say that electioneering cannot take place “within 100 feet of an entrance to a building containing a polling place.” This means that you have to remove campaign flags or signs from your vehicle if you’re going to drive to vote. Bumper stickers, however, are exempt from this rule.
These rules were implemented to prevent people from influencing other voters and for people to be able to cast their ballot without interference. According to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, when election day finally comes, “It is a time for choosing, not campaigning.” In a case on this issue, he held that states “may reasonably decide that the interior of the polling place should reflect that distinction.”
Under Wisconsin law, municipal clerks, election inspectors or even law enforcement “may remove posters or other advertising which is placed in violation of this section.” Typically, this also includes asking voters to remove clothing supporting a candidate, covering it up, or turning it inside out.
Many states have similar laws. In Texas, for example, “a person may not wear a badge, insignia, emblem, or other similar communicative device relating to a candidate, measure, or political party appearing on the ballot…in the polling place.” Delaware includes buttons, banners or other objects referring to issues, candidates or partisan topics, while California applies it to hats, pencils, pens, shirts, signs or stickers.
In Michigan, people caught electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place can be charged with a misdemeanor.
Other states do allow electioneering – to a degree. For example, in Iowa, voters can wear clothes or buttons with political affiliations, but they have to leave a polling place as soon as their ballot is cast. Maine allows voters to wear campaign buttons to the polls, so long as “the longest dimension of the button does not exceed 3 inches.”
So the next time you vote, just remember to leave your candidates’ gear at home. Unless you vote by mail, then you can wear whatever you want.