Free speech and privacy at early voting

Tomorrow is Election Day, and we’ll no doubt have cases of people wearing political apparel into a polling place and told to remove it. This is a bad law and should be repealed.

No one’s right to vote is infringed by someone wearing a political t-shirt, hat or mask. I am fine with forbidding people from open electioneering inside a polling place, as that can be intimidating to a voter. We want people to be able to vote their conscience without undue pressure. But a t-shirt, hat, or mask does not oppress anyone. As long as the wearer is minding his own business and not openly trying to get people to vote a certain way, he should be able to wear what he wants, within reason.

Back in the 1990’s, I was even told I was not allowed to read the newspaper while waiting in line because it might influence someone’s opinion. This was an absurd extension of the ban on electioneering in a polling place, and arguably a violation of the First Amendment.

If we are concerned about voter intimidation, we should be much more concerned by the total lack of any privacy screens while people are at early voting on Seventh Street. There is no legitimate reason not to give voters some privacy while they vote. Anyone walking by the tables can clearly see who people are voting for, and I was shocked by the total lack of privacy.

Yes, we should protect the integrity of voting and protect voters from intimidation. We can respect the First Amendment at the same time. We need to shift our priorities to do both.

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