Sunday, October 05, 2008

Voters must not dress to impress on election day

It's understandable why some institutions enact dress codes. After all, if you're running an expensive 5-star restaurant, it makes sense to want to give the joint an air of class and sophistication that matches your decor, cuisine and prices. Many corporations have dress codes requiring employees to dress in a way to maintain an environment conducive to work as opposed to turning the office environment into one that resembles a local bar or high school dance. These are perfectly appropriate rules as these places are owned/managed by someone that has a right to make certain rules to ensure the success of their business. In other words, dress codes in these instances make sense. It does not, however, make sense to enact a dress code for citizens going to a polling place to act on their right to vote. Despite the idiocy of the idea, the state of Pennsylvania is now deciding whether to refuse qualified citizens the opportunity to act on their right to vote.

While the state is currently debating the idea, Obama supporter Sue Nace has already felt the incredulous sting of being told to remove her pro-Obama T-shirt. Understand, Ms. Nace was not a volunteer working at the polling place, nor was she a partisan greeter lined up amidst the political signs near the entrance of the polling place. Ms. Nace was trying to vote and, in the end, was made to cover the writing of her shirt in order to cast her ballot to avoid what poll workers claimed was inappropriate electioneering. In order to clear up the confusion, the PA Dept of State issued a memo noting that voters can wear what they wish to the polling place provided they do not start actively campaigning to influence other voters. In the response to this memo, the Republican party has filed suit.
But two Pittsburgh-area elections officials sued to have the memo rescinded. Their lawsuit warned that if the memo stands, "nothing would prevent a partisan group from synchronizing a battalion of like-minded individuals ... to descend on a polling place, presenting a domineering, united front, certain to dissuade the average citizen who may privately hold different beliefs." AP
The Democrats have noted this yet another Republican effort to scare away and/or disenfranchise certain voters in this lovely swing-state of ours. According to the state Republican party, Gov. Ed Rendell issued the memo as a Democratic partisan in order to encourage horrific abuses of the political process

"The first thing would be a button or a shirt, and maybe the next thing would be a musical hat," said GOP chairman Robert Gleason, who called a news conference in support of dress codes.

PA is not the only state to consider a dress code. Maine, Montana, Vermont & Kansas explicitly prohibit wearing campaign paraphenalia inside a polling place; Kentucky has decided against such a prohibition. The truth is, while it would be intimidating and a concern if those working at polling places were decked out in campaign paraphenalia most people would wonder whether or not those people would have access to review/challenge/discard their ballot so the rules governing attire, discussion and activities of polling place volunteers are necessary and appropriate. Voters arriving to vote, whose time at the poll is limited to waiting in line to cast their ballot and then leave, should be permitted to wear their pros and cons on their sleeves (chests, backs and even butts) as they wish. Voters should be no more swayed by the attire of other voters waiting to cast a ballot than they are by the multitude of campaign signs that line up the streets on the way to the polling places, the streets all over town or the attire of other citizens theey see away from the polling place.

The irony that the PA Repulican party wants to do away with a voter's freedom of expression in the very place they are expected to act on their most important & fundamental right as an American citizen is astounding and is something that should really be left to a rhetorical debate in a HS civics class - not in the real world.


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