Thursday, December 11, 2008

Free Speech, Fair Elections

On behalf of a Jill Borak and Charles Epes, a pair of Virginia voters, the ACLU, the Rutherford Institute, and The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, have sued the Virginia State Board of Elections on the ban of political buttons, caps, shirts, etc. inside of polling places. The plaintiffs want the ban ended before the 2009 statewide elections.
The groups representing the plaintiffs represent the political spectrum with the ACLU generally seen as "liberal" while the Rutherford Institute is considered "conservative." On this issue, the groups are in agreement that the ban is an unconstitutional limit on freedom of expression and that the policy is open to differing interpretations that led to inconsistent enforcement on Election Day.
Robert M. O’Neil, director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression:
Election Day should be a time for celebrating the personal freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution. On that of all days, government should not be telling citizens how to express themselves.
John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute:
Thomas Jefferson understood that the first duty of government is to protect the freedom of expression. Regrettably, the State Board of Elections shirked this important civic duty when it adopted what essentially amounts to a dress code policy.
Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia:
The State Board of Elections has not only misinterpreted the state law, but in the process it has unnecessarily and unconstitutionally banned passive personal expression that has no history whatsoever of disrupting the voting process.
There is a good chance the complaint will never actually be heard in court. The State Board of Elections may rescind or change the policy. If the board doesn't act, Delegate David Englin, an Alexandria Democrat, has drafted legislation to overturn the policy. Although the issue may not be decided by a judge, the suit over an unpopular and controversial policy will force policy makers to reexamine their actions.

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