Wearing candidate garb won't keep voters away from polls in Florida

October 22, 2008

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — While poll workers in some states will turn away voters who wear political shirts, hats or buttons, wearing your political pride while voting in Florida won’t violate any anti-solicitation laws, a UF political science professor said.

“Florida is one of only a handful of states that allows voters to wear political insignia to the polls,” said Daniel Smith, interim director of the Political Campaigning Program at UF.

Florida law prohibits anyone from handing out campaign material or trying to petition for votes within 100 feet of a polling site. In other states, poll workers interpret campaign slogans on clothing as an attempt to solicit voters.

In Florida, though, McCain T-shirts and Obama stickers are considered strictly personal, “as long as you’re not a walking billboard actively soliciting support or opposition,” Smith said.

“Passive electioneering is protected under Florida law,” he said.

Earlier this month, Smith was quoted in a National Public Radio story about voters in South Carolina and other states who were turned away for wearing political clothing.

While polling places should be “safe harbors” where voters can express themselves without feeling inhibited or pressured, Smith said he thinks banning political clothing is a little excessive.

“A complete ban on campaign insignia is a rather strict infringement on a rather minor expression of free speech,” he said.

The first day of early voting in Florida began Monday when one potential voter wearing pro-Obama clothes was initially turned away from a polling place, according to media reports. The mistake was corrected quickly and the person was able to cast a vote. In New Mexico, a woman wasn’t allowed to vote on Saturday because she was wearing an Obama T-shirt.