Voters angered over enforcement of polling place law
The owner of this vehicle was asked to move when a poll worker spotted the Romney/Ryan bumper sticker. According to the elections officer, bumper stickers are considered “campainging” at polling places.
Early afternoon on Thursday, Oct. 25, a voter squealed his car out of the gravel parking lot at the Pickens Elections Office after being told his Romney/Ryan bumper sticker was considered campaigning and he would have to either cover it up or move the vehicle.
“This is a law,” said Pickens County Elections Supervisor Julianne Roberts. “It has always been enforced here.”
According to the state law, no political campaigning or “electioneering” is allowed within 150 feet of a polling place. “Campaigning,” Roberts says, includes any t-shirts, buttons, yard signs or anything that displays a candidate’s name. Well-known symbols that represent a candidate are also considered campaigning, she said.
“But people can display the party name, it’s just the candidates that are the issue,” she said.
Since early voting began, we have heard of numerous complaints from Pickens voters who were asked to moved their vehicle or cover up their bumper sticker at the local elections office. Roberts says the state law has always been enforced, but that the county has beefed up enforcement for the 2012 General Election in anticipation of large crowds.
“When the office was located at the [Pickens County] Admin Building, we enforced it but we would send out one of the office workers or poll workers would take turns going out,” she said. “This year we brought someone on because we knew we would be busy because there were going to be so many voters coming in.”
Roberts said the poll worker assigned to patrolling the parking lot keeps an eye out for bumper stickers, t-shirts or other “campaign” materials, but that he also assists people in the parking lot pulling in or backing out because the parking lot at the elections office is small, awkward, and on a steeply sloped hill.
“As you know our new parking lot has some issues,” she said. “We’ve already had a fender bender, and the driveway on the Piggly Wiggly side is where delivery trucks park for the Pig and the dollar store. We’ve had people park there and he will ask them to move.”
Another issue, Roberts pointed out, was that when the elections office was located at the administration building, the 150-foot perimeter was located in the middle of the parking lot.
“Here, all the parking is within that 150-foot border. When we were over there people could just move their vehicles to the lower level of the parking lot,” she said.
Roberts said the elections office will provide materials to cover bumper stickers or other signage, but some people still choose to move their vehicles. In this case, she said, her office does not care where people move their cars as long as they are outside of that 150-foot perimeter. For handicap voters, she reiterated that the option is available to cover up the signage.
Roberts went on to note that she recently spoke with the Secretary of State’s Office, who told her there have been a large number of voter complaints about the 150-foot campaigning law this election season.
“I don’t know why there is so much more this year,” she said. “I don’t know if people just have more campaign materials or what. We’ve had bumper sticker issues, but there have been a lot of complaints from voters all across the state. There have been more about t-shirts around the state, but so far we haven’t had any issues with t-shirts.”
If a voter did come into the polling place with a t-shirt displaying a candidate’s name they would be asked to turn it inside out or cover up the name.
The 150-foot campaigning law will be enforced at all polling places on Election Day, next Tuesday, Nov. 6.