Tuesday Arkansas voters were at the polls, making their voices heard in two special elections. Under Arkansas law, voters aren’t allowed to wear political t-shirts or buttons at the polling place. Some say the law protects against voter intimidation, while others say it stops free speech.
Minnesota voter Andy Cilek is challenging the law that allowed an election judge to turn him away for wearing a “Dont Tread On Me” t-shirt in 2016.
“I simply approached the table and was told by an election judge, you can’t vote unles you remove your t-shirt,” said Cilek. “This isn’t just about me or others who favor the Tea Party. Other voters with views opposite to mine might be similarily hassled.”
Arkansas has a similar law on the books. In fact, during the 2016 election, Washington County Election Commissioner Jennifer Price reminded voters what not to wear.
“Even a t-shirt that would reference a political party, so for instance no ‘I miss Bill’ shirts or no Reagan Bush shirts would be allowed at the polling place because those are reminiscent of the party and would be considered electioneering,” said Price in 2016.
Attorneys say the shirts are passive speech that don’t hurt anyone and that some states, including Arkansas, are taking the law too far.
“Another person wearing a shirt that said I miss Bill was stopped at the Arkansas polls in 2016. In other instances, voters got in trouble for wearing Dallas Cowboys apparel in Texs where a stadium finance issue was on the ballot,” said Cilek’s attorney Wen-Fa.
However, some Arkansas voters in Tuesday’s special election, like Wynam Morgan, disagreed. He thinks political shirts are distracting.
“The campaigning should be done before you come to vote and when you come to vote, you shouldn’t be distracted,” said Morgan.
In the end, however, the only opinions that matter will hear the case at the end of the month. Oral arguments in Cilek’s case are set for February 28.