An ominous e-mail has been causing quite a bit of confusion for voters recently. With an urgent warning to recipients, the e-mail claims that election officials have the right to turn away any voters wearing campaign paraphernalia to the polls. So what's up? Can you rock that "Obama Mama" T-shirt to cast your vote on Nov. 4?
In most states, you're in the clear. Wearing campaign paraphernalia—a button, a sticker and, of course, a T-shirt—in support of any candidate is seen as passive electioneering. Some states are more lenient. In Kentucky, Marylandand Florida, election officials most often make no fuss about voter attire. The only thing banned there is the display of excessive campaign garb (i.e. head-to-toe Obama gear) or outright solicitation. Wearing campaign paraphernalia and lingering in the polling station is also a no-no in those states.
Other states, such as Pennsylvania and New York, maintain laws on passive electioneering while remaining lax in enforcement. In New York, for example, refusing to comply with the request of election officials to remove an item is considered a misdemeanor, but arrests have rarely—if ever—been made.
Not everyone is as laid-back about the issue. In the District of Columbia, strict rules apply. Prior to entering a polling station in the District, everyone is required to remove or cover up any exposed campaign paraphernalia. No exceptions.
Still confused? No worries. Before you head to the polls, figure out the specifics for your area. Contact the state board of elections. Because of the widespread effect of the mysterious e-mails, some state boards are prominently displaying regulations on the law on their Web sites.
While there isn't uniform enforcement of the law, the important thing to remember is that you absolutely will not lose your right to vote. No election official has the right to turn away a voter for passive electioneering, whether the law exists in that state or not. If an election official calls you out on your campaign wear, feel free to ask questions. It's your right as a voter! The most they will ask you to do is remove your button or turn your "Mac is Back" tee inside out. If you still feel a little shaky about the situation, call 1-866-Our-Vote and ask for help.
The problem with the e-mail on passive electioneering was that it gave no specifics on which states upheld the law. Vague rumor + Internet = Mass misinformation. The e-mail gained some serious viral momentum in the last couple weeks. It was even spotted in The Root Explainer'sinbox!
No one is certain of its origins. Democrats are pointing the fingerat Republicans, charging the GOP with attempting to scare people away from the polls. Republicans have fired back, claiming that the viral warning is being used to incite outrage and pump up Democratic turnout. It doesn't really matter who initiated the e-mail. If you have questions, contact the appropriate officials for answers. And if you're still feeling worried, play it safe. Leave your candidate gear at home when you go to vote.
Saaret E. Yoseph is a writer living in Washington D.C. and editorial assistant for The Root.
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Saaret Yoseph is a writer and Assistant Editor at TheRoot.com. She manages and blogs for \"Their Eyes Were Watching …\"