By T.B. Lefever:
Today was a day like any other. I got up, brushed my teeth, and had a gigantic cup of coffee while I caught up on the news. After running through the happenings of the day, I decided to attend early voting since it’s my off day. My wife and I headed for the door and she gave me that look she gives me every time I wear my “Hillary for Prison” tee shirt. “What?” I said with a smile. “You expect me not to wear it today of all days?”
We drove to the polling location and parked. I walked to the door excited to cast my vote and be done with my civic duty. As I held the front door open for my better half, I noticed a sign that stated “campaigning within 150 feet of polling location prohibited”. The volunteer standing outside glanced at my shirt. As I entered, I pondered whether or not my shirt could be considered “campaigning”. I sensed the man approaching me from behind and it dawned on me that I was going to be given a talking to about it. “Excuse me sir”, the man said. “You can’t wear that in here.” I politely and cordially complied by removing the shirt and turned it inside out. “I appreciate it” the man said with a grin. Referencing the Project Veritas revelations I leaned in and quietly said, “Hey, I get it. The Clinton campaign can violate federal election law on camera and get away with it but we little people have to know our place”. The man chuckled and walked back outside. I wear that shirt not because I’m dramatic and petty but because I’m in the right. There is a sensation of satisfaction that comes with standing up for what is right just as there is a sense of shame when we know we’ve chosen the wrong side. My poor wife may have been a little embarrassed.
When we got to the front of the line, we handed our GA driver’s licenses to the volunteer working the desk. My verification went off without a hitch just as it did a few months ago when I voted inconsequentially for the few races I could as an Independent in the local and state primaries. My wife however, did not have the same experience. “I’m sorry”, the woman said to her with concerned eyes. “I don’t see you registered here in our County.” I looked over and my wife had a puzzled expression on her face. We moved to the county we now reside in two years ago when we became home owners. We both went to get our licenses changed to reflect our new address and we both know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we checked “yes” in the box inquiring if we would like the register to vote. My wife advised the volunteer of this and a call was made to a polling location at the county of our former residence. We were told that my wife was not registered to vote in our new county and ultimately, if she wanted to vote, she would have to do so in our former county of residence on the north end of the Atlanta. Her vote will still be tallied. It will merely be delayed. After I cast my ballot, we headed for the door. The man who approached me held the door open for me this time and stopped me to apologize once again. I told him it was no problem and left with, “Hey rules are rules. I did what I came here to do”. Once I got to my vehicle, I sat down and turned my shirt right side out. That was that.
I’ve been thinking about the situation and wondering if the “Hillary for Prison” tee shirt does in fact violate my state’s election laws so I did a little bit of research. Georgia State Code 21-2-2; 21-2-414(a) reads as follows.
“No person shall solicit votes in any manner or by any means or method, nor shall any person distribute or display any campaign material, nor shall any person solicit signatures for any petition or conduct any exit poll or public opinion poll with voters on any day in which ballots are being cast: (1) within 150 feet of the outer edge of any building within which a polling place is established; (2) within any polling place; or (3) within 25 feet of any voter standing in line to vote at any polling place. Campaign material means any newspaper, booklet, pamphlet, card, sign, paraphernalia, or any other written or printed matter referring to: A candidate whose name appears on the ballot in a primary or election; a referendum which appears on the ballot in a primary or election; or a political party or body which has a nominee or nominees on the ballot in a primary or election. Campaign material shall not include any written or printed matter that is used exclusively for the personal and private reference of an individual elector during the course of voting.”
So there you have it. I was in the wrong legally. Interestingly enough, had I been an Alabama voter, I could have worn the shirt or even brought any literature in as long as I didn’t leave it at the polling station. Even more interestingly, a Texas man was recently arrested and charged for wearing a “Deplorables” tee shirt to his polling location. Texas State Code 61.003 Electioneering and Loitering Near Polling Place articulates:
“(a) A person commits an offense if, during the voting period and within 100 feet of an outside door through which a voter may enter the building in which a polling place is located, the person: (1) loiters or (2) electioneers for or against any candidate, measure, or political party. (b) In this section “electioneering” includes the posting, use, or distribution of signs or literature”.
Whether or not the wearing of a tee shirt constitutes the posting or use of a sign or literature is up for debate and really is a matter or syntax. Because Texas law does not make the distinction that the State of Georgia does in its legal code, a reasonable and prudent person might determine that the wearing of a tee shirt does not infringe. You can visit file:///C:/Users/bh1684lefever/Downloads/state-laws-polling-place-electioneering-0816.pdf for a state by state list of applicable voter laws related to this matter.
As far as my wife not being allowed to vote in our county of residence this year goes, I chalk it up to the evils of bureaucracy. I choose to believe that an error was made on behalf of the Department of Driver Services by someone who didn’t click a box on a computer screen when we got our new ID cards two years ago. Mistakes happen. I am, however, keenly interested in whether or not anyone else is experiencing this type of thing or if there is a discernable pattern.
Whether you choose to wear a tee shirt, hat, button, diaper, tie, or scarf; make sure you know what your rights are ahead of time. If you are asked to remove an article of clothing to vote, I would advise to go ahead and do it. While arrest is extremely rare in these cases, is it really worth going to jail over? What do you think of the voter laws regarding this issue? If anyone has a similar experience, let us know. Whatever you do, get out and vote!
T.B. Lefever is an OpsLens Contributor and active police officer in the Metro-Atlanta area. Throughout his career, Lefever has served as a SWAT Hostage Negotiator, a member of the Crime Suppression Unit, a School Resource Officer, and a Uniformed Patrol Officer. He has a BA in Criminal Justice and Sociology from Rutgers University.