Polling places to become swag-free zones

Published 10:40 pm Thursday, October 16, 2008

Virginia voters know that campaign swag – signs, posters, etc. — aren’t allowed within 40 feet of the entrance to a polling place.

Now, that swag isn’t permitted on your body, either.

The state Board of Elections voted Tuesday to clarify a section of election law, making it illegal to wear things such as campaign buttons or T-shirts for a particular candidate into a polling station.

According to the resolution, “no person shall be allowed to show, display, or exhibit any material, object, item, advertisement, or piece of apparel, which has the purpose of expressly advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate.”

Ryan Enright, an intern with the state board, confirmed that the rules also apply to ballot initiatives.

Local registrars say the rule is nothing new, but expressed some concern that the rule could possibly cause problems this time around because of the anticipated high voter turnout. The number of registered voters for the Nov. 4 election has hit record highs in Franklin, and Southampton and Isle of Wight counties.

“This election is so much bigger than what we’ve had before,” said Leona Davis, registrar for Southampton County. “But this rule is nothing new. Our staff is trained for all of our precincts.”

It wasn’t clear if the registrars were expecting T-shirts to be a problem.

“Having something there to cover (T-shirts) with, or who’s responsibility that will be, I don’t know,” Davis said. “We will adjust. We will do whatever the state board says that we should do. If they should come up with a suggestion for the precincts we will try to conform to that.”

Sandy Holloman, the registrar for Franklin, said poll workers in the city have asked people to turn T-shirts inside out in the past.

“(The rule has) taken place before — but it’s been a matter of buttons,” Holloman said. “(Those) we ask people to remove.”

When asked if she thought voters who were asked to remove offending materials would leave the polling station and not return, Holloman said she doubted that would happen.

“I don’t think they’ll do that,” she said.

Lisa Betterton, the registrar for Isle of Wight County, said Wednesday that she had seen a flurry of e-mail activity among the other registrars in the state, most discussing the subject of the rule change.

“Everyone’s concerned,” Betterton said, referring to state registrars. “I guess I’ll be more concerned when people find out about it.”

In its decision, the state acknowledged that some voters may show up to polling places with a sample ballot, which is essentially a list printed by a particular political party or campaign to steer voters toward their candidates.

Under the clarified rule, voters may enter a polling place with a sample ballot, but may not display it or give it to anyone else.

The registrars said that no one has complained about the rule change yet.

“No, not one,” Davis said, when asked if there have been any complaints.

Betterton concurred. “No one has complained about it yet,” she said. “How they will react when they find out about it, that will probably determine the way it goes.”