What Not to Wear: Voting Edition

Today we’re looking at a U.S. Supreme Court case out of Minnesota concerning polling place advocacy.  The case is Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky.  If any of you have ever tried to pass a bond measure or to defeat a statewide incumbent in a primary election, you probably have some idea that there are limits on the advocacy in which a school district can engage.  True.  As hosts to a great many of our state’s polling places, however, you may or may not realize that there are limitations on the political expression voters can engage in when they come out to vote.  In Texas, Election Code Section 61.010 makes it a Class C misdemeanor to wear a badge, insignia, emblem or other similar communicative device relating to a candidate, measure, political party appearing on the ballot, or to the conduct of the election, in a polling place or within 100 feet of a polling place.  The Minnesota statute at issue in Mansky contains a nearly identical ban on individuals wearing “political badge[s], political button[s], or other political insignia … at or about a polling place.” Minnesota Voters Alliance (MVA) sued the State of Minnesota over this restriction on individual expression, alleging a violation of the Fee Speech Clause of the First Amendment.   They won, 7-2.

Per the Supreme Court, there was no basis to reject Minnesota’s (and every other state’s) determination that some forms of campaign advocacy should be excluded from the polling place in order to set it aside as “an island of calm in which voters can peacefully contemplate their choices.”  So how did they still manage to lose?  “Political.”  The Minnesota statute failed to define this term and, according to the record before the Court, the Minnesota legislature uses it pretty loosely in a variety of contexts.  From a constitutional analysis standpoint, that meant to the Supreme Court that the term was insufficiently explicit and thus too vague to create a meaningful standard for the voters to follow.  Accordingly, a statute purporting to limit the right of a voter to display “politically-related” attire or accessories at a polling place amounted to an unconstitutional limit on their respective rights to free expression under the First Amendment.


Tomorrow:  Texas Data Privacy Agreement.  Cure for Insomnia?  Sinister Plot?