Political apparel at polls: Will Supreme Court ruling affect Texas law?

On June 14, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Minnesota law prohibiting voters from wearing political badges, buttons or other apparel in polling places. In Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, the Court held by a 7-2 majority that the apparel ban violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. The case stems from the November 2010 election, in which voters were prevented from wearing such things as a button with the text “Please I.D. Me” and a T-shirt with a Tea Party Patriots logo and the language “Don’t Tread on Me.”

The Texas Election Code also prohibit voters from wearing certain things to the polls on election day. Specifically, Texas voters are not allowed to wear “a badge, insignia, emblem, or other similar communicative device relating to a candidate, measure, or political party appearing on the ballot, or to the conduct of the election” either in the polling place or within 100 feet of the any entrance to the building housing the polling place. Could the Texas law be affected by the Supreme Court ruling?

Texas law is more precise

One of the problems with the Minnesota law, according to the Supreme Court ruling, is the unclear meaning of the term “political” in the ban on wearing a “political badge, political button, or other political insignia.” Without a clear definition in law, election officials may be left to determine with they themselves consider to be “political,” leaving to uneven interpretations, even by election judges attempting to fairly enforce the law.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, cited Texas as an example of a state with “more lucid” laws, while clarifying that the ruling only concerned the constitutionality of Minnesota’s law, not that of other states. According to the Austin-American Statesman, the Texas secretary of state’s office does not believe that the ruling will invalidate our state’s restrictions, given that they are far more clear than those in the law that was struck down.

Nevertheless, the ruling is a reminder of the importance of consistent enforcement of election law by officials and election judges throughout the state. The Statesman reports that Travis County, for example, requires that Democratic and Republic election judges determine together whether a button or apparel violates the state’s restriction.