Electioneering and How I Learned the Limits of Free Speech

 

It was two o’clock on your average early voting day. People standing in line in a state appointed building. Filing through the line and answering question about their voting status.  I stood amid the throngs, holding my voter registration card, my state ID and my diligently researched sample ballot so I could chose the best representative who coincided with my beliefs. Oh, and I was also wearing this.

elctioneering1

As the line spiraled toward the actual booths, one of the volunteers said that I couldn’t vote in the shirt I had chosen. It was a violation of the Texas polling place laws, where your intentions of which candidate you choose cannot be displayed. I was a bit shocked at this, but I was offered alternatives. I could either turn it inside out or they had an apron I could wear over it. I declined both methods of being controlled and quietly left. Over the last few days, I have voraciously read and researched the regulations around what is called, electioneering.  To the best of my knowledge I had violated the following.

Sec. 61.003.  ELECTIONEERING AND LOITERING NEAR POLLING PLACE.  (a)  A person commits an offense if, during the voting period and within 100 feet of an outside door through which a voter may enter the building in which a polling place is located, the person:
(1)  loiters;  or
(2)  electioneers for or against any candidate, measure, or political party.
(a-1)  The entity that owns or controls a public building being used as a polling place may not, at any time during the voting period, prohibit electioneering on the building’s premises outside of the area described in Subsection (a), but may enact reasonable regulations concerning the time, place, and manner of electioneering.
(b)  In this section:
(1)  “Electioneering” includes the posting, use, or distribution of political signs or literature.
(2)  “Voting period” means the period beginning when the polls open for voting and ending when the polls close or the last voter has voted, whichever is later.
(c)  An offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor.”

This article is not intended to be a woeful tale of how my voting rights were violated, I went back several days later and cast my ballot in attire that was acceptable for the state mandated dress code. I am of the belief censoring the political intentions of anyone, especially at the place of voting is heresy. To determine that these freedoms are benign in designated places baffles me. When I recounted this tale to family and friends, I was met with confusion that I didn’t know this rule as law. The most cursory Google search corroborated their opinions. It also revealed that every election cycle a handful of people are either removed from polling places, arrested or fined for electioneering violations.

If voting is performing your civic duty or patriotic responsibility, shouldn’t fundamental human rights be observed during those actions? Applying a wide allotment of restrictions to a place, simply because it has a voting booth is counter productive and wrong. The bureaucratic process of voting is already a hassle, but only the stupid or determined will persevere through the gauntlet of inconvenience to cast a vote. It seems with every passing moment, additional limitations are placed upon your ability to merely exist. The hardest ones for me to swallow are the ones buried so deep in rhetoric, you discover them only by unwillingly defying them. Land of the free, indeed.

 

 

I found the following to be of great use on this subject

http://law.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4685&context=expresso

http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/EL/htm/EL.61.htm

http://www.snopes.com/politics/ballot/electioneering.asp

 

Cody Jemes is the co-host of the Bored Shenanigans podcast available via iTunes and Stitcher. See more of his articles here. Also enjoy his poetry by downloading his latest e-book hereBe sure to follow Bored Shenanigans on Twitter or Facebook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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