Should the Fashion Police have the power to control what voters wear to polling places? That’s what the Supreme Court will determine after hearing arguments Wednesday in the case of Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Joe Mansky, which challenges a state law against wearing “politically-charged” clothing or accessories to the polls. Nine other states have similar laws.

It all started when Andrew Cilek, founder and executive director of the Minnesota Voters Alliance, went to the polls wearing a shirt with a picture of the Gadsden Flag (“Don’t Tread On Me”) and a small Tea Party logo, plus a button that featured the phone number and website address of Election Integrity Watch. He was stopped in his tracks and forced to cover up before he could vote. So, is this law a necessary provision to stop blatant electioneering as people are casting their votes, or it is a violation of Andrew Cilek’s free speech rights?


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The case could boil down to what “political” is supposed to mean. Certainly campaign buttons or shirts for particular candidates, parties or propositions would be considered political by just about everyone, but it’s a pretty vague term. The Tea Party is a group of generally like-minded individuals but not an official party; it has no candidates on the ballot. As for Election Integrity Watch, who isn’t for election integrity? (On second thought, maybe that should be the subject of another essay.) Officials said they interpret the law to include anything a “reasonable person” sees as having a political connotation. But deciding what’s too political to wear to the polls must inevitably lead even the most reasonable person to make some awfully subjective judgment calls.

For example, should a rainbow flag shirt be allowed? Daniel Rogan of the Hennepin County Attorney’s office told the Justices it would be unless there were a ballot issue involving gay rights. Okay, then how about an NRA shirt? To that, he said no, period. I’m not sure that’s a very consistent policy.


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Justice Alito ventured further into this area when he asked about a shirt bearing the text of the Second Amendment. Rogan answered that it could be viewed as political. (Just wondering if anyone asked about the text of the FIRST Amendment; how ironic if that were to be banned as well.) “How about a Colin Kaepernick jersey?” Alito asked, referencing the NFL player who started the National Anthem protests and whose name has become –- pardon the expression –- a political football. Rogan didn’t think that would be banned. “How about All Lives Matter?” Alito queried. Rogan said that could be perceived as political. See how subjective this exercise is?

Try it yourself, with this list I came up with. Let’s say you’re an election judge. Which of these would you think could be interpreted as a “political” expression? None of them carry the name of a party or candidate, but they all suggest, with greater or lesser ambiguity, the wearer’s political leanings:

“Make America Great Again” cap

Bright red cap that says “America Is Great”

Blue cap with ACLU logo

Pink p*** hat

Army Vet’s hat

NRA T-shirt with semiautomatic guns on it

PETA T-shirt with adorable animals on it

“Proud American” t-shirt

“Proud Immigrant” t-shirt

“Resist” button

#MeToo button

PBS tote bag for “A Prairie Home Companion”

Rush Limbaugh tote bag for “EIB”

American flag T-shirt

Mexican flag T-shirt

Russian flag T-shirt

Confederate flag T-shirt

Bold tattoo: “Black Lives Matter”

Bold tattoo: “Back The Blue”

Planned Parenthood T-shirt

“Protect The Unborn” T-shirt

“Pray For America” T-shirt

See how they’re all a little nuanced –- and also how much easier it is to approve one that’s not at odds with your own leanings? The federal appellate courts have been deeply split on this issue, so it’ll be interesting to see how SCOTUS rules. I’m sure we all agree that modern campaigns last long enough (!) without continuing right through the voting process. We want to be able to cast our votes in as neutral an atmosphere as possible, but at the same time there’s this little thing called “freedom of expression.”


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Sometimes the judgment calls have been downright ridiculous. Cilek’s lawyer told of cases in Colorado and Florida in which voters wearing “MIT” shirts were stopped in 2012 because election workers thought they were campaigning for Mitt Romney. It turned out they were students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Never mind that “Mitt” has two t’s.

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Comments 1-16 of 16

  • Paul Yoder

    03/08/2018 10:19 AM

    This just goes to prove that laws are seldom the solution. What is important is who gets to interpret the laws. It would be interesting to do a comparison of the "Law" as given by God and the 'law' as enforced by the Pharisees, to compare to the intent of laws as written and how they are enforced by whatever group is in control in this great Republic.

  • Bobby May

    03/06/2018 04:20 PM

    Anything should be allowed, wearuing a Trump shirt wouldn't have influenced a Hillary voter and likewise someone wearing a Hillary shirt dang sure wouldn't have swayed me towards her! If MN wants to ban candidates names or official parties names, that's one thing but the examples you list here, no way. It's absurd to think that voters are too delicate to see a 'Black Lives Matter' or a confederate flag tee shirt, much less a “Pray For America” one. The whole idea is preposterous!

  • rodney burke

    03/05/2018 03:48 PM

    sounds to me like freedom of expression is being infringed upon. I hope the SCOTUS says leave it alone. Oh! the courge of PC.

  • Robin Grawe

    03/05/2018 02:08 PM

    Mike,
    I am a great respecter of your column. And generally, I trust your research. Thank you!
    Thus, as an experienced election judge in Minnesota, I was disappointed in your headline about “political Fashion Police.”
    The issue is hardly fashion. It is campaigning at the polls.
    Minnesota law prohibits political or campaign materials at and within 100 feet of the polls. In my sixteen plus years of experience, I have found this rule to have the very valuable effect of inhibiting voter intimidation and encouraging respect for disparity of views and for democracy itself. The rule applies to everyone and, in my experience, has been overwhelmingly respected by voters.
    Violators are not prohibited from voting, they are merely asked to comply.
    Our elections have been polite, convivial, even joyful—yet sober—celebrations of democracy at work in large part because on election day itself we set aside campaigning, especially at the polls, in order to set the stage for democracy to work. The voters speak on election day through the ballot box.
    Whatever the Supreme Court outcome, please don’t misrepresent or disparage a wonderful American event.

  • Cree Haag

    03/05/2018 01:13 PM

    Thank you once again Govenor Huckabee for your excellent evaluation of our politically correct group!! Our country has been terribly scarred from this nit- picking,freedom stifling ideology for years. Our family thanks God for you and your dear family. We truly appreciate your worldview and it is so needed in our country today. God bless you and your family(very thankful for Sarah).

  • Sandy Fields

    03/05/2018 10:25 AM

    Good luck finding a reasonable person among the left. Don't forget, Gorilla statues are racist.

  • James R. Davis

    03/04/2018 05:25 PM

    Or no shirt at all

  • Sharon Snyder

    03/02/2018 05:59 PM

    I work in an Ohio election site. We are told to tell voters to either remove or cover up anything political before they can enter to vote. In all the years that I've worked the polls, only one person gave us a problem. It took awhile, and not liking it, they finally did what they were told to do. Some people will say that it's silly, but they do it without any problems.

  • Anne Turner

    03/02/2018 04:30 PM

    The things people worry about! I doubt those Syria’s being gassed and bombarded, and those staving Venezuelans, or Somalians, would worry much. They would just be grateful to have a shirt, or to be able to have any kind of a marginally fair election. What a bunch of spoiled wusses we are. No matter what the shirt, short of vulgar language, should be allowed if there is nothing on the ballot to which it pertains. But honestly, do you really think anyone would be swayed in their vote simply by seeing a button, sign, or shirt? If so, we are in a heap of trouble.

  • John Adair

    03/02/2018 01:58 PM

    People should be able to wear their campaign buttons, shirts, hats, etc while in line to vote, actually voting, and while leaving the voting area without interference from anyone. This is actual freedom. I have no problem with not having campaign signs and such in the actual voting area: coming voting areas can be a little cramped. But folks should be able to distribute campaign literature or display signs in such a way that does not hinder/intimidate people from voting.

  • Diane Woodard

    03/02/2018 01:46 PM

    I am not sure where to draw the line. I think we should be in observance of propriety and manner to leave our billbosrd clothing at home on election day!

  • Kathy Wingate

    03/02/2018 11:21 AM

    I agree with Cindy Krueger, what a waste of resources, to have the SCOTUS debating this issue...I've also been a polling place worker, and I agree, no Republican or Dem, buttons, hats, shirts, etc. should be allowed. But, if someone wears something, hat, shirt, tattoo,expressing his opinions,(without promoting a party) that's not going to change my opinion...I've made a decision on who I'll vote for before I arrive at the polling place. We'll never be rid of people who walk all over the rules, in any way they can. If we start policing opinions, we'll be at war with each other right on until the end. The more fuss we make over it, the more they love it, and the more emboldened they become...ie taking a knee at the National Anthem. If it hadn't made the news so much, the jerk may have just forgotten about it. So, now, the whole team takes a knee. That's just my take on this.

  • Suzanne Utts

    03/02/2018 11:10 AM

    During the election where Bill Clinton won the race for his second term, I worked the polls. I don't remember being told that we could not wear campaign paraphernalia. I DO remember being told we had to be a certain distance from the polling site as we handed out campaign literature.

    I am for less government rather than more. We have First Amendment Rights for a reason. However we cannot shout "fire" in the middle of a theater. If it would cause a riot would a sane person wear clothing that would incite a riot? No. That's called "common sense." So if it would cause a problem at a polling place to wear a t-shirt that might incite an unbalanced person to attack, "common sense" would indicate to cover it up. Maybe the Court should leave this one alone other than to upbraid the American people and tell them to start treating others as they would want to be treated. We go to a polling place to VOTE, and we need to remember that by the time people get to the polls they have already made up their minds. Also we need to remember that there are a lot of people on prescription mind-altering drugs. That wasn't so much the case years ago. Perhaps we should have a large sign posted a few dozen feet from the polls as a visual reminder to voters to "mind your manners."

  • Cary Sowles

    03/02/2018 09:56 AM

    What happened to being polite? Political correctness is wrong but the laws/rules were made for a reason and we should follow them, even if we think the law is vague or unclear we should think about how it looks to others and how it might make them uncomfortable. But that's just my opinion.

  • Cindy Krueger

    03/02/2018 07:30 AM

    Just when you think our country can't get any crazier...What an insane waste of resources.

  • Lucille Yuen

    03/01/2018 11:27 PM

    I've been a judge at a polling place before and we wouldn't allow campaign paraphernalia within 50 feet of the polling place. Would disallowing advertising connected to the voting issue and candidates be enough? I can see that "positions" could be inflammatory, but a child wearing a shirt with a rainbow on it or a lady with a vizor hat with a rainbow symbol on it could be so innocent. I suppose that to be most circumspect one should avoid wearing anything that has symbolic meaning. I think things have become stupid because of the agitation of liberal troublemakers who need to divide Americans for a Communist takeover of our country. Tit for Tat liberal stupidity!