Not News: You Can Wear a T-Shirt in a Polling Place

Just in case you were wondering what to wear to tomorrow’s preliminary election, the ACLU would like to remind you that you can wear a t-shirt in support of your favorite organization.

WORCESTER — In advance of the preliminary election in Worcester on Tuesday, Sept. 20–and in light of recent controversy over T-shirts worn at polls by supporters of the community organization Neighbor to Neighbor–the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts concurs with the recent ruling of the Worcester Elections Commission, which affirms the right to wear organizational T-shirts at polling places. Today the ACLU issued the following statement, attributable to staff attorney Sarah Wunsch:

“Massachusetts law provides for a zone of 150 feet around the entrance to a polling place within which no one can engage in activity aimed at influencing how a voter will vote on candidates or ballot questions that are on the ballot in that election. Wearing a T-shirt with the name of an organization is not prohibited advocacy.

“Those who tried to get the Worcester Elections Commission to prohibit the wearing of T-shirts bearing Neighbor to Neighbor’s name are not only misrepresenting the law for their own political purposes, they are trying to divert attention away from real issues about access to the polls, such as efforts to intimidate and deter people from voting. Wearing a T-shirt that supports a community organization like Neighbor to Neighbor, the Main South Alliance, or the Worcester Homeless Action Committee is not prohibited at the polls under state law, and people willing to assist with and observe the elections process should not be attacked for their commitment to our democratic system.”

To clarify, the Election Commission doesn’t have the authority to rule on this kind of item.  They consulted with both the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office and the city solicitor 9-10 months ago about t-shirt wearing, and it was as clear then as it is now that the t-shirt rule only applies to shirts advocating candidates (by name) or political parties.

One can only wonder how a former director of the Worcester ACLU Chapter would handle this.

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