Court Rules Against Tea Party Garb, Buttons at the Polls
First the scuffle over WWE outfits, now this: A court in Minnesota has ruled against a collection of conservative groups, including Minnesota Majority, in their request for a temporary restraining order against the elections managers in several local counties who have sought to prevent them from wearing Tea Party paraphernalia and “Please I.D. Me” buttons at or around polling places in the state. The court issued its decision this afternoon after a rushed hearing this morning:
Plaintiffs’ as-applied challenge rests on the prohibition of wearing Tea Party paraphernalia and the “Please I.D. Me” buttons at or about the polling place. Plaintiffs argue that the prohibition is not viewpoint neutral because their organizations are being singled out by state authorities. Such a finding would require evidence that they are being targeted in ways that others are not. The record is, however, devoid of such evidence beyond mere speculation on this point. Moreover, prohibiting the buttons and apparel is reasonably related to the state’s legitimate interests. The record suggests that the buttons are designed to affect the actual voting process at the polls by intimating that voters are required to show identification before voting. This intimation could confuse voters and election officials and cause voters to refrain from voting because of increased delays or the misapprehension that identification is required. The buttons are also associated with a political movement to require voters to produce identification. The Tea Party apparel communicates support for the Tea Party movement which is associated with certain candidates and political views. As such, prohibiting the buttons and apparel is reasonably related to the legitimate state interest of “maintain[ing] peace, order, and decorum” at the polls. Plaintiffs have therefore failed to show that prohibiting the display of the buttons or apparel is likely to be found a First Amendment violation.
Unlike the WWE gear, which was ruled in Connecticut to be OK for the polls, the courts in Minnesota determined that the Tea Party name is associated with certain candidate and political views. The “Please I.D. Me” button, on the other hand, is confusing and could suppress turnout by implying that identification is required to vote in the state. Voter I.D. laws are required in a handful of states, Minnesota not among them. They’ve become something of a* cause célèbre* among conservative groups who fret about widespread voter fraud, while most voting rights advocates argue they deter tons more legitimate voters than illegitimate ones from voting.