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Minnesota Majority, tea party lose case on political apparel at polling places

Minnesota Majority, Minnesota Voters Alliance and the North Star Tea Party Patriots lost a case in court on Friday when U.S. District Court Judge Joan Erickson dismissed the trio’s challenge to a state law that bans political apparel in the polling place. The groups had attempted a campaign to have their supporters bring “Please ID Me” buttons and tea party t-shirts into polling places, but elections officials said the items would not be allowed.

The groups requested a restraining order just days before the 2010 election to force elections officials to throw out the rules regarding political attire in polling places, but Erickson rejected that request.

The groups refiled the complaints following the election on the grounds that the rules that keep political buttons and t-shirts out of the polling place are unconstitutional.

The plaintiffs argued that elections officials violated their free speech rights by prohibiting the voter ID buttons and Tea Party t-shirts in the polling place. Erickson, however, said that the polling place is not a a public forum and that “the state has a well-established, legitimate interest in providing a safe, orderly, advocacy-free polling place.”

She noted that the advocacy that was being promoted by Minnesota Majority and the Tea Party could be perceived as intimidating to voters.

“The language on the button intimates that government-issued identification should be — or is — required in order to vote in Minnesota,” wrote Erickson. “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.”

She added, “On this basis alone, the Court concludes that it was reasonable to ban the ‘Please I.D. Me’ buttons.”

Minnesota Majority and the tea party also argued that their buttons and t-shirts were not political but Judge Erickson wasn’t buying that argument.

“As the Court considers this case, there is a proposed legislation that would require voter identification pending in the Minnesota House of Representatives,” she wrote. “In July 2010 the U.S. House of Representatives recognized a Tea Party caucus consisting entirely of Republican members of Congress. Mobilizing public opinion on matters of fiscal or electoral policy, or on the proper reach of government, like persuading and organizing elected representation, is ‘political’ activity by any fair estimation.”

She concluded, “Minnesota’s strong interest in creating a neutral zone where individuals can vote free from external influence is reasonably furthered by restricting the expression of political views within the narrow confines of the polling place.”

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