Suit challenges rule against apparel supporting candidates at polls

By Boston Herald

Aug. 12–A lawsuit filed in federal court last week is seeking to overturn a ban on passive shows of support for a candidate in Massachusetts, saying the law violates the First Amendment.

“The government should not be in the business of telling people what to wear when they vote,” said Jeremy Colby, an attorney who brought the suit. “If you just keep chipping away at our First Amendment right, which is the core building block of our democracy and our ability to communicate ideas, little by little, it does erode that First Amendment right.”

The suit, brought by two Massachusetts residents — a Democrat from Townsend, Caitlin Normington, and a Republican from Hubbardston, Charles Carpenter Bailey — asks a federal judge to declare the state law banning tokens of support to be unconstitutional.

Colby said the suit is not asking to legalize active forms of influence at polling places that are clearly meant to sway voters’ opinion.

“They’re not challenging electioneering, they’re not saying people should be in the polls distributing literature,” he said. “The challenge is that a voter who goes in to vote can’t wear a button when they go in to vote.”

The suit comes after a Supreme Court ruling that found a Minnesota law banning political apparel was unconstitutionally vague.

“A rule whose fair enforcement requires an election judge to maintain a mental index of the platforms and positions of every candidate and party on the ballot is not reasonable,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.

Colby said Massachusetts’ law is similarly vague.

“Notably, neither the statute nor regulation elaborate as to how to identify an item that is ‘intended to influence the action of the voter’ ” the complaint says.

No decision has been made, but he said he and his clients are considering asking for a temporary restraining order that would allow voters to wear buttons and shirts when they head to the polls in a few weeks for the primary elections on Sept. 4.

“It is certainly something that is on the radar,” he said. “Time is of the essence.”

Colby, who is based in Buffalo, N.Y., has filed a similar suit in the Northern District of New York.

The complaint names Secretary of State William F. Galvin and the town clerks of Townsend and Hubbardston, Kathleen Spofford and Joyce Green. Spofford and a spokeswoman for Galvin both declined to comment. Green did not respond to a request for comment.

This article provided by NewsEdge.