Election ’08: Unbuttoned

Election Day is less than two weeks away, and as the self-appointed legal greenhorn of The Minnesota Daily, IâÄôve taken it upon myself to review some of the more crucial laws regarding proper behavior at your local Minnesota polling place on Nov. 4. WeâÄôll start with Minnesota statute 204C.06: No lingering near polling places. And you canâÄôt tear down or mutilate any instruction posters. You also canâÄôt take any ballots with you when you leave, lest you be charged with a gross misdemeanor. Consider yourself forewarned. Oh, and you canâÄôt bring booze into a polling place. Even if itâÄôs 3.2, itâÄôs still against the law. I know itâÄôs going to be tough to pick a senator sober this year, but you gotta do it. ItâÄôs the law. Now the really important stuff. Minnesota statute 211B.11 says itâÄôs a petty misdemeanor to âÄúdisplay campaign material, post signs, ask, solicit, or in any manner try to induce or persuade a voter within a polling place or within 100 feet of the building in which a polling place is situated.âÄù It gets better. âÄúA political badge, political button, or other political insignia may not be worn at or about the polling place on primary or Election Day.âÄù How you like them apples? After enduring months of talking fish and schmucks in bowling alleys, you wear a button to the polling place and, BAM! YouâÄôre a criminal. The Minnesota secretary of stateâÄôs website has a page entitled âÄúProtecting Election Integrity,âÄù where they break the statute down for us laypeople. It reads, âÄúIt is illegal to wear any clothing, buttons or other attire bearing candidate names or partisan references into a polling place.âÄù So obviously what this statute is saying is, when you go to the polls, leave your âÄúElated for EllisonâÄù button or your âÄúBachman is BeautifulâÄù t-shirt at home. But todayâÄôs kids are pretty intense about their politics. What if a guy writes OBAMA across his forehead with a paint marker or some girl tattoos the likenesses of McCain and Palin on her eyelids? Are they not allowed to vote because it would compromise electoral integrity? And that vague prohibition against partisan references? What does that even mean? Can I paint my entire body red? Wear a blue sweater? Will this compromise election integrity? ItâÄôs hard to say. And if you think these are laws that wonâÄôt get enforced, talk to Anna Brenna. Brenna was standing in a voting booth in Lakeville in 2004, when she felt a tug at her backpack. âÄúI assumed it was my husband looking for a pen,âÄù Brenna said. âÄúBut it was a woman who was physically trying to remove my bag.âÄù It turns out Brenna had left a Kerry/Edwards and a Wellstone button on her backpack, and an erstwhile election judge was trying her darndest to rectify the situation. âÄúI thought there was something sacred about standing at an election booth,âÄù said Brenna, who said she would have been happy to remove her buttons had she known about the law. âÄúIt was pretty rotten.âÄù Alan Maki had a similar experience when he tried to vote in 2004. Maki, the director of organizing for the Midwest Casino Workers and Organizing Council and a self-proclaimed communist, wore a button that read âÄúUnion Yes, War No.âÄù An official threatened to call police when he refused to remove the button at his polling place in Warroad. âÄúIâÄôm totally opposed to people who campaign at a polling place, and I wasnâÄôt doing that,âÄù Maki said. âÄúI wear that button every day of my life.âÄù Maki said the attack was both a suppression of an unpopular idea and a personal attack against him. âÄúI didnâÄôt want to get arrested, so I took it off,âÄù Maki said. This year, Maki voted absentee and kept his button on. It turns out Minnesota is one of 10 states that doesnâÄôt allow campaign paraphernalia at polling places. Kimberly J. Tucker, a 2006 graduate of American University Washington College of Law, was told she had to remove her âÄúJohn Kerry for presidentâÄù button in order to vote in 2004. When she refused, an official threatened to call the police. TuckerâÄôs experience motivated her to write an article about polling place restrictions that appeared in the fall 2006 issue of the âÄúThurgood Marshall Law Review.âÄù In her article, Tucker reviews the major incidents and court cases that have decided the constitutionality of such laws. My favorite example: Dallas Cowboy fans were not allowed to wear football jerseys to the polls in 2004 when there was a stadium-finance issue on the ballot. âÄúThe wearing of political message buttons provides a silent voice of personal conviction during one of the most important times for a democracy âÄî the casting of votes,âÄù Tucker said at the conclusion of her article. âÄúThere should be no political dress code for polling places.âÄù The Supreme Court has said that states like Minnesota can have restrictive laws pertaining to polling places because itâÄôs important for states to protect voters from âÄúfrom confusion and undue influence.âÄù Gee, thanks Supreme Court! I may not be the brightest fellow in the precinct come Nov. 4, but I kind of doubt I would be so befuddled by the presence of an opposing viewpoint in 2 inch letters that I would, in a complete fog of ignorance, vote for the wrong side. And IâÄôm pretty bad with names. DonâÄôt get me wrong, IâÄôm totally against voter intimidation. The last thing I want is some Barkley enthusiast looking over my shoulder whilst meaningfully wielding his Independence Party shillelagh on Election Day. But buttons? Are they worried about political bullies threatening to pinprick the opposition to death? Come on. Anyway, itâÄôs an exciting election. So go out and vote. But no lingering or boozing around the polling place, OK gang? And for goodness sake, leave those buttons at home. Jake Parsley welcomes comments at [email protected]