T-shirts and buttons bearing political messages are no-nos at polling places. And that’s the law.
So said U.S. District Court Judge Joan Erickson today as she dismissed a lawsuit (PDF) brought by the conservative Minnesota Majority against election officials in Hennepin and Ramsey counties and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. Minnesota Majority is an organization pushing for voter photo ID legislation. It has repeatedly stated there is widespread felon voting in the state, claims not supported by the state’s county attorneys.
Last fall, a day before the November elections, Minnesota Majority, which is affiliated with Minnesota North Star Tea Party Patriots, sought an injunction. They wanted to stop election officials from barring voters who wore Tea Party T-shirts and buttons that read, “Please I.D. Me.” The buttons also had a phone number and website. Erickson denied that request for a restraining order and injunction.
County and state election officials cited Minnesota laws that bar such politicking at polling places.
The law reads:
“A person may not display campaign material, post signs, ask, solicit, or in any manner try to induce or persuade a voter within a polling place or within 100 feet of the building in which a polling place is situated, or anywhere on the public property on which a polling place is situated, on primary or election day to vote for or refrain from voting for a candidate or ballot question. A person may not provide political badges, political buttons, or other political insignia to be worn at or about the polling place on the day of a primary or election. A political badge, political button, or other political insignia may not be worn at or about the polling place on primary or election day.”
Two weeks later, the Minnesota Majority sued the election officials and respective county attorneys, claiming various constitutional rights were violated.
Today, Erickson, pointing to a 1991 U.S. Supreme Court decision on an almost identical case in Tennessee, dismissed the Minnesota Majority’s case and said the Minnesota law and election officials policies were constitutional.
“The “right to vote freely for the candidate of one’s choice is the essence of a democratic society,”’ Erickson wrote, quoting another case.
“Minnesota’s strong interest in creating a neutral zone where individuals can vote free from external influence is reasonably furthered by restricting the expression of political views within the narrow confines of the polling place.”