Should NH voters be allowed to wear political clothing at the polls?

Published: 03/01/2022 17:19:40

New Hampshire law prohibits wearing political clothing at polling places. Hats, t-shirts or other clothing that advocates for or against a candidate, political party or voted measure are prohibited. Now lawmakers are considering repealing that ban, allowing voters to wear clothing that advertises their political beliefs. However, some fear that this could have unintended consequences.

Political Clothing in ‘Live Free or Die’ Condition

It seems that every election season we read at least one story about the polling place drama sparked by political t-shirts. In 2020, an Exeter woman made national headlines by entering the voting booth shirtless after election officials said she could not wear a shirt with an anti-Trump message printed on it.

This year, the NH Legislature is considering HB 87, a bill to repeal these restrictions. The bill’s sponsor, Representative John Potucek of Derry, drew on his own personal experience at the polls; a moderator asked Potucek to remove a pro-Trump hat he was wearing. In his view, this violated his constitutional right to free speech.

Debate the bill

As originally written, HB 87 would have broadly allowed anyone to wear political clothing at the polls without distinguishing between the voters themselves and the election officials manning the polls. This led the House Elections Law Committee to amend it, specifying that election officials, observers, clerks and others could not wear clothing making political advocacy statements – only regular voters would be allowed to wear them. do it.

A question of freedom of expression

Supporters of the legislation, including the majority of the House committee that approved the amended bill, pointed to a 2018 Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that struck down a ban on political clothing at the ballot box. They say New Hampshire’s ban on such clothing violates voters’ right to free speech and that Election Day should be a time to celebrate political beliefs rather than hide them.

Conflicts with applicable law

Opponents of HB 87 fear it will weaken the intent of the state’s anti-election law, which is to keep voters from feeling harassed or intimidated at the polls. Writing against HB 87, Rep. Paul Bergeron said: “This bill will encourage campaign activists to congregate inside the polling place wearing all sorts of campaign paraphernalia for the purpose of influencing voters after entering the building.”

What do you think?

Do you like the idea of ​​being able to wear a t-shirt or hat to support a candidate or a show position when you go to the polls? Or are you worried that rewriting the current law could invite voter intimidation? Whatever your position on this issue, you have the opportunity to make your voice heard by attending the next public hearing on March 7 at 1 p.m. in Room 100 of the State House in Concord.

If you can’t attend in person, you can go online to share your opinion. Go to the legislature’s home page (gencourt.state.nh.us) and scroll down to click on the link labeled “Senate Remote Sign-in.” Select the hearing date (March 7), select the Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee from the drop-down menu, and then select the bill (HB 87). The rest of the choices allow you to share who you are and what your opinion is.

Citizens Count is a nonprofit organization serving the New Hampshire community by providing unbiased information about issues, elected officials, bills, elections, and candidates. These articles are shared by partners of The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.

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About Lonnie G. Mitchell

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