Tea Party T-shirt Election Lawsuits

Posted on September 20, 2010 | Type: Case
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The Goldwater Institute has filed federal lawsuits on behalf of voters in Maricopa and Coconino counties to defend their right to vote while wearing clothing that refers to one or more “tea party” groups. The lawsuits aim to make sure county election officials use uniform and objective standards to enforce Arizona's electioneering laws without violating the constitutional rights of these and other voters in the future.

Why are we suing?

Voting in public elections, speaking freely about issues and associating with community groups are all fundamental rights protected by the U.S. and Arizona constitutions. Laws that restrict any of these freedoms should be written narrowly to protect other constitutional rights while preserving as much liberty as possible. Government officials must enforce such laws neutrally and use objective standards so everyone can know beforehand what actions are illegal. Policymakers can’t be allowed to enforce such laws using only their personal views and biases, or their decisions will result in discrimination and unconscionable losses of freedom.

Arizona has banned electioneering within 75 feet of election polling places so voters can cast their ballots freely and without undue influence or coercion from others. However, the right to vote freely does not empower election officials to suspend all other constitutional rights inside a polling place. The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled in 1966 that the state law against electioneering at polling places must be interpreted solely to “prevent interference with the efficient handling of the voters by the election board and to prevent delay or intimidation of voters entering the polling place by political workers seeking a ‘last chance’ effort to change their vote.”

State and county election officials enforcing the ban on electioneering should restrict only messages on clothing that expressly advocates for or against a candidate or measure on the ballot. Attempts to forbid other types of messages requires poll workers to use their personal or subjective judgments, which inevitably will result in uneven enforcement at separate polling places and illegal discrimination against certain viewpoints that aren’t popular or an individual poll worker doesn’t like.

To read more about each lawsuit, visit:

Wickberg v. Owens

Reed v. Purcell

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