Certain Clothing Banned in VA Polls on Election Day

Renee -- October 24th, 2008

As reported on CNN TV and in the Washington Post, Virginia is going to enforce a ban on “passive campaigning” at the polls on Election Day by wearing clothing supporting or opposing a candidate or issue. Anyone seen wearing a partisan t-shirt, button, hat, etc. within 40 feet of a voting location will be asked to remove their buttons/hats, change into a blank t-shirt (provided at some locations), turn their shirt inside out, or cover up with a jacket. People violating the rules will not be asked to leave, but to change, and will still be allowed to vote once they meet the clothing rules set by the State Board of Elections.

An erroneous email has been circulating saying that only “Obama paraphernalia” is banned, when in fact clothing supporting any candidate is not allowed.

What do you think – is this a reasonable rule to avoid “peer pressure” at the polling places, or a violation of free speech rights?


Edited: Removed statement that VA is the first to enforce this rule. (See comments below) -Renee

36 Responses to “Certain Clothing Banned in VA Polls on Election Day”

  1. Renee says:

    I think this is absolutely a violation of first amendment rights.

    You can’t even wear clothing supporting a certain issue? Like if I made a shirt saying “Teachers Should Be Paid More” – I wouldn’t be able to vote until I changed? I wonder if they will make people wearing Union hats or clothing supporting some organizations take them off.

    How about “Don’t Violate My Rights By Making Me Turn This Inside Out” t-shirt? Is that against the rules since it take a stance on an issue?

    I’m just curious how they determine where to stop – and I think this may cause big problems/fights/longer lines at the polling places.

    Most states allow “passive” support of a candidate – meaning you can’t actively try to influence people in line, but something “quiet” like a t-shirt with a candidate’s or party’s name on it is OK. That sounds good enough to me – why does our state have to take it a step further?

  2. David Miller says:


    If I wasn’t volunteering to help that day I’d steal your shirt idea or maybe just settle for this

    I too am outraged at this obvious infringement. No time to fix it this go round though.

  3. Emmy says:

    I don’t agree with this. Its censorship and frankly if a t-shirt with a candidate on it is enough to sway your vote once you get to the polls then you’ve got issues. I plan on wearing what I want, but I’ll cover it up until I’m out of the booth and back in my car. The rest of society will just have to look away if they’re so easily swayed.

  4. Renee says:

    I think these rules are going to cause more tension at the polls than the shirts they are banning to “reduce tension”.

    I know it is late, but I hope localities decide not to waste volunteer power to try to enforce the ban anyway. Or maybe it’s supposed to be enforced by police? I’m just worried there will be enough issues with long lines, voting machine problems, registration issues, and other voting-day debacles. It doesn’t make sense to add in another potential negative.

    Why, Virginia? Why do we have to be the ones making national headlines in this way? Ugh. OK, I’m done venting (for now)!

  5. watchman says:

    This is no surprise. It is the way of the future. It is akin to hate speech. If something offends someone you do not have the right to express that which offends. Someone may be offended by a Confederate flag. Someone may be offended by a picture of Obama. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander…Be careful what you ask for!!! There may be unintended consequences.

  6. NewHburger says:

    Whoever said that Virginia will be the first state to enforce the t-shirt ban just doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Maryland has enforced a similar rule for years. I served as a poll watcher for a number of different campaigns over the years and can’t tell you how many people I had kicked out of a polling place for wearing campaign paraphernalia. It was a tactic that both sides employed.

  7. Finks says:

    This is not a new rule. It has never been legal to wear campaign material within 40 ft of the polling location in Virginia.

  8. Lowell says:

    So if you want your vote to be effective and count for something, don’t do something that will prevent you from casting your vote!
    This isn’t hard folks. Don’t lose sight of what you want to accomplish! Don’t get caught up in a silly argument over what you can wear, just go dressed in the manner proscribed, and vote!
    This isn’t all that hard…

  9. Christa says:

    I agree with Lowell. Nobody really needs to pull a stubborn stunt on election day when the polls will be packed anyway and you could lose your place in line! Just go vote.

  10. Emmy says:

    I don’t think anyone is saying they won’t follow the rule. I’m going to wear my Obama shirt, but its going to be covered up until I’m done voting. I will follow the rule because voting is important to me. But, I also think its important that this rule be reevaluated.

  11. Lowell says:

    Are you and Bruce ready for that beer and meal we’ve been talking about? This whole deal has my head hurting and after November 4th we’ve got some serious life to catch up on…
    Up for it?

  12. Lowell says:

    No question Emmy, silly rules need to be reevaluated.

  13. Christa says:

    I am going to have a little free time here in about 2 weeks, then I hit it hard until the end of January. I have November the 8th off!! How about then? I’m afraid if I don’t plan something, I’ll decide I need to work! And thank God for Emmy this fall…don’t know what I would have done without her help. Wished I had her full time!!!

    And this is a funny story Lowell, one you will appreciate. Emmy came to my house one Sunday morning to help me in Page Co and when she drove up I yelled at her from the back porch. She was wondering that since she had Obama stickers all over the back of her car and I had McCain on mine and in my yard, did I want her to turn her car around so her Obama stickers wouldn’t show. I thought Bruce and I would die laughing at her! We love you Emmy! Even though we disagree politically!!

  14. Renee says:

    On a somewhat-related note (opinion suppression) – has anyone else had issues with campaign signs and stickers? I know some people across the country have set up webcams to catch sign thieves. My mom said a big McCain banner in her area was torn down, and I know there was the destruction of the Obama sign in Rockinham County recently.

    My Obama magnet disappeared off of my truck a couple months ago, and then just yesterday, someone opened the back of my truck cap, took the Obama-Biden bumper sticker taped inside the window, tore it up into little pieces, took the paper backing off, and stuck each piece on the hood of my car. I thought it was a little extreme and was wondering if others have had similar experiences.

    I guess what the anti-Obama person didn’t realize is that I’m just going to go donate another few dollars and get another sticker, so by lashing out against my sticker, they’re only helping fund his campaign.

  15. Christa says:

    I’m sure he left fingerprints all over that bumper sticker, Renee. It’s a felony and I would have turned it in to the police. I had my McCain sign in my yard torn up and I’m sure it was by kids walking home from school since I live across the street from a middle school. If I would have caught them, I would have called the police…I don’t care whose kid it was.

  16. watchman says:

    This is an out and out violation of our First Admendment rights. Maybe black folks should not be allowed to vote because most will probably vote for Obama. The color of their skin gives that away. Everyone voting should wear a shirt with their candidates picture on it. Stand up for what is right. Don’t compromise. Make a statement Harrisonburg.

  17. Renee says:

    I turned it in to security at the store I was at at the time, and they said they’d check their security cameras and call me, but that they probably didn’t capture that part of the parking lot.

    I didn’t hear back from them and I didn’t call police, and I doubt they took fingerprints…. I guess I could call to see if they still have the sticker, though it’s probably been in several people’s hands at this point if they do still have it. If it was just torn in half, I wouldn’t have thought too much of it, but it did upset me that they went through the effort to tear it into little pieces and stick it all over my hood.

  18. Christa says:

    Well, I have 3 McCain stickers on the back of my car. If someone thinks they can even pull them off , they can go right ahead. Those bumper stickers have some pretty sticky glue. I think Emmy had hers taken also?

  19. Renee says:

    watchman, I totally would do that in any other year. The only reason I’m planning to “fall in line” this time is because I don’t want to cause a big scene and hold up the line for voting or upset people trying to vote since there should be a huge turnout and I want as many people as possibly to get through the lines by the time the polls close.

    However, I do think it would be fun to brainstorm a bunch of funny phrases and make shirts in protest to wear around town that day.

    Maybe in the future they’ll have a voting uniform people have to wear when going to the polls! I saw in one state they set up a “drive-thru voting” station in one location – that might solve the issue since no one would have to see anyone else. But then they’d probably make people take off their bumper stickers before getting in line.

  20. Renee says:

    The Obama sign cam is the most popular webcam on UStream:


    The kid has people around the world watching his front yard live 24/7! That’s one solution :)

  21. Renee says:

    Christa – that’s why I had taped mine inside the window! Maybe I should just go all the way and get a custom Obama paint job on my tailgate haha :)

  22. watchman says:

    Having a huge turnout would be the best time to protest. There would be a lot of press coverage. Keep on compromising and the next thing you know, y’all wake up one day and it won’t matter any more. A little chip here and a little chip there and the next thing you know you won’t have any First Amendment. Believe me I know. Some of us have already had this right taken from us by our “justice” system in Harrisonburg.

  23. Kenny says:

    Yeah, that law obviously violates first amendment rights. Especially when you can consider that the Supreme Court has set precedents to allow worse way of free speech like flag burning. But I really think the law was made with good intentions. My roommate gets pretty mad when she hears about people with an opposite view and from watching the news and youtube there are some pretty extreme people out there. In this case I don’t think it a big deal to fall in line on this.
    @Renee, sorry to hear about the multiple defacing of your bumper stickers

  24. JGFitzgerald says:

    I have, not a bumper sticker, but a plywood Obama emblem, two feet in diameter, on my spare tire cover. It is bolted on, and I think it is safe. It has not been stolen yet.

    On Nov. 4, I will work inside the polls as an election judge. My vehicle will be parked outside, but forty feet away. The angel on one shoulder says to take the sign off of the vehicle for the day. The devil on the other shoulder says to decorate it with red and blue Christmas lights.

    And any state election officials reading this, the ones who have so far done nothing about voter suppression while voting about t-shirts, probably need to know that I’m just kidding. About the Christmas lights.

  25. Emmy says:

    So far all of my Obama stuff has been safe and based on the volume of stickers and signs I’m seeing, I think the people who thought this would be fun are getting tired of stealing them all.

    I want to get out and takes some pictures of all the different signs I’m seeing. Yesterday I saw a huge one on a building that says Obama Biden for Affordable Healthcare and I saw another big one in a yard that was bright yellow with black letters that said something about Firefighters for Obama. These were professionally made signs and I haven’t seen anything else like them. I want to take a picture before someone defaces them. One of my co-workers said she saw someone who had an elephant painted yellow in their yard and a sign that said they’d donate $20 to the local democrats every time someone stole their sign.

  26. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Are you ready to hear something AWESOME?… Obama is rumored to be coming to Harrisonburg on Tuesday! Date and location TBA.

  27. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Err…TIME and location TBA.

  28. David Miller says:

    Jeremy, please let us know if this rumor pans out. Actually just tell me so that I can get a seat ;)

  29. Brooke says:

    I wanna know, too, Jeremy. :-)

  30. Deb SF says:

    I guess I take the minority view here. As an election judge over at Stone Spring, I want the process of voting and counting ballots to be efficient and completely unimpeachable.

    Once inside the polling place, the process is what’s important. Particularly this year, with feelings running extremely high, the outcome needs to be squeaky clean. In my opinion, there’s a duty and responsibility we all have to ensure an accurate, fair outcome. We all need to make sure that the minutes we spend in the polling place casting our ballot are free and clear of even the mildest persuasion, much less nasty kinds of intimidation. When I help a voter, I really don’t want – or care- to know who they are voting for. And neither do my repub colleagues working alongside me.

    Leave the campaigning outside the polling place itself. Put up a zillion signs in the parking lot, hand out a gagillion sample ballots, wear as much partisan regalia as you can afford. But leave all persuasion campaigning 40 feet from the door.

    So sayeth the very , very partisan Sister Mary Deb, who is going to cast her absentee ballot in about a half an hour. ;-)

  31. Lowell says:

    Point well made Sister Mary Deb.
    Thank you.

    I cast mine yesterday. Care to wager how I voted?

  32. Brian M says:

    I’ll be expecting a telephone call, Dave. Or save me a seat next to you. =o)

  33. Renee says:

    Emmy – I too have seen 3 large Obama signs in case you want more areas to photograph :)

    One was on Route 11 on the right side when I was heading towards Harrisonburg from Bridgewater.

    One is by Quizno’s.

    One is a large professional one like the one you’re describing, and it was on the right side going from Harrisonburg to Massanutten on 33. I think it said “Obama-Biden for Better Education”.

  34. Barnabas says:

    How about a shirt with the following:
    on the front

    in the back

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