Electioneering vs Free Expression – What I Learned About Election Expression
Though I've covered numerous elections in almost 20 years in a newsroom, a learned two things this year that I simply wasn't aware of.
I did not know you aren't allowed to head to a polling location wearing shirts, jackets, hats, buttons, stickers, etc. 'donning' the name of a candidate or their slogan. More specifically, expression in favor of, or in opposition to a particular candidate or issue is prohibited. However, you can still 'express yourself' with political attire that espouses a movement or a cause - as long as the movement or cause isn't explicitly included a referendum that is being decided on that day.
This Camillus man wearing a Trump 2020 shirt and hat was told he'd have to leave the polling location because of his outfit. When he learned it was against the rules, he complied and removed both and then was allowed to cast his ballot - for Trump you'd presume. However, if he'd had a shirt and hat that said 'Make America Great Again', he'd of been fine.
I do find that peculiar.
MAGA, Don't Tread On Me, The Tea Party, Black Lives Matter or ANTIFA are all acceptable because they are interpreted by the New York State Board of Elections to be political movements, not overt support of a specific candidate.
As noted in this article from the DemocratandChronicle, there seems to be a change in 'guidance' from past elections and NYS BOE officials determined ''MAGA'' gear was considered to be expression of a movement, not Trump specifically (although it is his political slogan) and was not to prohibited in the 2020 election:
"You can wear a MAGA hat. You cannot wear a shirt that says 'Vote for President Trump,'" said Lisa Nicolay, Monroe County’s Republican elections commissioner.
On the call with the state, Nicolay said, "It specifically came up. They said we can not infringe on people’s freedom of speech."
In Oneida County, a second 'expression' issue has been raised: Where can you gather or rally in support of a particular candidate on Election Day?
New York State's statue on electioneering bans such gatherings, or attempted influence (aka electioneering) within 100 feet of a polling location.
Outside 100 feet - you're good chant, sing, march or rally.
Actually I knew that.
This issue came up during the last day couple days of early voting with several Trump supporters including former Utica councilman Jim Zecca gathering for somewhat of a Trump rally, including music and megaphones, or maybe they were MAGA-phones.
''There are guidelines, and Jim knows this, that have been around for a long time,'' Sheriff Rob Maciol said on WIBX 950's Keeler in the Morning.
In both of those incidents, Maciol said, as long as those rallies are going on at least 100-feet from the polling place, gatherers were free to express themselves. However, he did raise an issue with the constant vehicle horn-honking while driving around the lot which became the subject of complaints to deputies.
This what I didn't know - random and unnecessary horn-honking can get you a ticket.
Citing NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law 375 1(a), Maciol explained whether it's Election Day or not, you can't drive around a parking lot constantly blowing your horn at people.
The applicable section of that VTL reads:
...horn or device shall produce a sound sufficiently loud to serve as a danger warning but shall not be used other than as a reasonable warning nor be unnecessarily loud or harsh.
Always happy to learn something new.