State election officials are reminding voters they should keep that Obama T-shirt or McCain button at home when they go to vote on election day.
State election officials are reminding voters they should keep that Obama T-shirt or McCain button at home when they go to vote on election day.Kansas has one of the strictest laws in the nation against electioneering at the polls including specific guidelines about what not to wear.The law bans “wearing, exhibiting or distributing labels, signs, posters, stickers or other materials that clearly identify a candidate in the election or clearly indicate support or opposition to a ballot question.”Although it’s been state laws since 1974, voting-rights activists say the electioneering law has more significance this year because of an expected increase in first-time voters.Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh said he believes law covers partisan apparel such as the elephant logo of the GOP or a “Democrat and Proud” T-shirt. The outlawed items cannot be worn within 250 feet of the door of the polling place.A violation is a misdemeanor but Thornburgh said it’s unlikely someone would be prosecuted unless he or she clearly intened to flout the law. But he said poll judges would likely tell violators they can’t vote until they somehow cover up or remove the offending apparel.“The supervising (poll) judges have all the authority they need to correct the problem,” he said.Black community activists have been trying to alert voters about the law through e-mails and Web postings so voters don’t get turned away, said V.J. Sessions, political action chairwoman for the Wichita NAACP and co-chairwoman of Voter Empowerment 2008, which provides voting education through local churches.“Because of the excitement of this year, people are probably going to want to be wearing something that says Barack Obama on it,” she said. “The concern is that people are notified,” that it’s not allowed at the polls.Wichita State University political science professor Ken Ciboski called the ban on political apparel “a silly rule.”Ciboski, a Republican, said he supports banning election officials such as poll workers, poll judges and official observers from wearing election gear. But he said a voter wearing a T-shirt or button is unlikely to influence anyone else’s vote.“If they don’t know who they’re voting for when they get there, we’re in pretty bad shape,” he said.Bumper stickers on cars are allowed in Kansas poll sites if they are “affixed to a motor vehicle that is used to transport voters to a polling place or to an advance voting site for the purpose of voting.”Thornburgh said poll workers and observers have been asked to move their cars with bumper stickers away from entrances to polling places.Campaign vans, often covered with signs of support for a certain candidate, could also be an issue. But Thornburgh said the vans are permissible as long as they stop only briefly to drop off and pick up voters.But if the vans are parked near a polling site for a long time, it would more likely be seen as illegal electioneering, he said.Thornburgh said it’s best just to use common sense.“Work very hard for the candidate of your choice, but leave it outside the polling place,” he said. ———Information from: The Wichita Eagle, http://www.kansas.com