What voters are wearing: A battle over dress codes

by Societal Store on October 21, 2020

Elections now have a code of dress, too. The narrative is that polling places should be free from politicking in order for electors to cast their votes in peace so in order to encourage voters to vote without interruption, most states in the US now prohibit campaigning within a certain distance from a polling place. That could include wearing or showing something with a political message. For example, a Palestine T-shirts advocating for peace would not be acceptable wear at polling stations on election day in some jurisdictions.

"Electioneering" is known to be showing or expressing facts for or against some candidate — another term for voting."

You won't be the first if you want to campaign for the right to wear what you want and express your individual liberty of thought and action at the polls. In June 2018, at a polling place on Election Day, the US Supreme Court ruled against a Minnesota statute that banned wearing political clothes. In defence of the Tea Party, the republican cause, a group of people sued after being forced to cover up as they went to a polling place carrying T-shirts and pins. 

"Richard Hasen, a political science professor at the University of California , said that the rules are unique to each jurisdiction, and they are enforced by poll workers. He also said that it would be important to decide on a case by - case basis whether one should wear and what other laws could breach the First Amendment."

Many states have gone a step further by regulating clothing that promotes a political candidate! California, Delaware, Kansas, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, South Carolina, Texas and Vermont are among them. If you wear your red "Make America Great Again" hat or your "Ridin' with Biden" tee shirt to the polls, you could be asked to remove it or turn your shirt inside out. 

Laws on electioneering differ by state at polling stations. For example, Texas law specifies that "an person must not wear a badge, insignia, symbol, or any similar communicative device referring to a candidate, measure, or political party appearing on the ballot in the polling place." Also it is against the rules to wear a political dress within 100 feet of a polling place in California and Texas. It's 50 foot in Delaware.

However, at the elections, not all states have outlawed political dress. In Iowa, electors can wear political clothes  — but they must leave the polling station as soon as they cast their ballots. 

"Campaigning or electioneering of any kind is also illegal in a polling place; loitering in a polling place is considered electioneering while wearing political items," says the Iowa election website. However, for comments such as "Black Lives Matter" that don't convey an opinion on a single candidate or faction, state regulations on wearing clothes are less evident. For example, a election worker was fired last week in Tennessee for driving away residents wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts. Tennessee is one of the states where, at a polling station, clothing endorsing a nominee or a group is not permitted. While it is potentially a little bit of a grey field, political slogans are tolerated.

On the flip side, a message connected to a ballot measure, or considered democratic could be prohibited. For instance, some states might ban i.e. a # MeToo T-shirt.

"Casting a vote is a weighty civic act, akin to a jury's return of a verdict, or a representative's vote on a piece of legislation," wrote Chief Justice John Roberts. But even more so with the updated dress code.

So if you're not mailing an absentee ballot, be careful of what you're wearing when you register. Just to be clear the other nine states where clothes supporting a party or a politician are banned at the polling booth are California, Delaware, Kansas, Montana, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Texas, and Vermont. However, it has also been said that anyone who insists on wearing political gear might not be turned away!

1 comment
by Jody on October 21, 2020

Fashion is inherently political. The industry not only forms our views on gender, luxury, and desire, it depends on countless global workers (many of whom in developing countries are underpaid and exploited) and leaves an enormous carbon footprint.

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