Tea Party T-Shirt Lawsuit Settled With Coconino County; County Agrees to Objective Standards for "Electioneering"

A settlement's been reached in a lawsuit filed by the Goldwater Institute on behalf of a Coconino County woman who was told in 2010 by election officials that her Tea Party T-shirts were not allowed in polling places. Thanks to the settlement, as long as the Tea Party isn't an actual political party, the shirts will be allowed, and the county has agreed to "implement objective standards at voting precincts to enforce the state electioneering law while protecting the voters' right to free speech."

New Times broke the story about Diane Wickberg and her Tea Party T-shirts in June of 2010. See that story here.

According to the Goldwater Institute, "Coconino County's new rules define electioneering to provide that only conduct that advocates for or against a candidate, a political party, or an issue on the ballot may be banned at the polling site. The County has also agreed to provide additional training to poll workers for objective enforcement of election laws and to protect against discrimination in the polling place."

Goldwater attorney Diane Cohen tells New Times that while singling out Tea Party garb is unconstitutional, and Coconino County has agreed to implement new rules when it comes to what's not allowed at polling places, the real problem is the state's broad definition of "electioneering."

Arizona law bans "electioneering"  within 75 feet of any polling place, but the term is very loosely defined in state statute.

Cohen says the state needs to amend the law to more narrowly define what "electioneering" actually is -- something, she says, is falling on deaf ears.

"The secretary of state's been nowhere on this," she says.

Cohen says the Goldwater Institute's found an ally in state Representative Jeff Dial, who introduced HB 2676, which clearly defines "electioneering."

Dial's bill would amend state election law to define "electioneering" as follows: 

For the purposes of this section, "electioneering" means express advocacy in support of or opposition to a candidate who appears on the ballot in that election, a ballot question that appears on the ballot in that election or a political party with one or more candidates who appear on the ballot in that election. Electioneering does not include the wearing of any items of apparel, including shirts, hats or buttons, without regard to whether those items bear the name, likeness or designation of any candidate, ballot question or political party that appears on the ballot in that election, and voters shall be permitted to wear those items while otherwise lawfully present at a polling place.
The state as a whole has some work to do when it comes to deciding what "electioneering" actually is, but in Coconino County, Diane Wickberg can now wear her Tea Party shirts wherever -- and whenever -- she wants.

"I'm grateful Coconino County recognizes we do not give up all of our rights to free speech when we cast an election ballot," Wickberg says in a statement from the Goldwater Institute. "Now, voters will know our fundamental freedoms are protected as we carry out our civic responsibility at the polling booth."
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James King
Contact: James King