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Minnesota: Federal judge kicks tea party garb out of polling places

A federal judge ruled that tea party followers could not wear tea party garb or buttons supporting a voter ID law when they went to the polls in Minnesota. -db

Pioneer Press
November 1, 2010
By Jason Hoppin

A federal judge on Monday blocked an effort to allow conservative activists to wear “tea party” garb and buttons supporting a voter ID law into polling places on Election Day.

Officials in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, the state’s two largest counties, will ask voters casting ballots today to either remove or cover tea party T-shirts and other political materials, citing a state law. Several groups argued that local officials are playing politics and the law applies only to specific candidates or ballot measures, but a federal judge said it should go beyond that in order to protect the polls from politicking.

“That’s too great a chasm there, and into that chasm can fall the safety, the calm and the decorum that’s supposed to be maintained in the polling place,” U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen said.

Three groups — Minnesota Majority, Minnesota Voters Alliance and the North Star Tea Party Patriots — filed a last-minute attempt to block local election officials’ decision to disallow tea party shirts and buttons reading “Please ID Me,” a reference to a statewide voter ID law that conservatives have sought for years.

The groups hope that if they urge thousands of supporters to wear the buttons and volunteer their identification cards to election judges, others would do the same. State law bans political materials within 100 feet of a polling place, and registered voters are not required to show ID.

Alliance said the ruling means different counties will have different interpretations of the law, with voters in one county potentially being allowed to wear buttons while voters in a neighboring county are not.
“I think it’s very unfortunate, because it’s going to leave our elections system in chaos,” McGrath said.

Ramsey County elections manager Joe Mansky said no voters will be prevented from voting even if they refuse to remove a button. Instead, their names will be turned over to an administrative law judge, who could cite them with a petty misdemeanor.

Mansky denied his decision was itself rooted in politics, an accusation made by the conservative groups, which claimed they are being singled out for their views. If a referendum on a new Vikings stadium were on the ballot, Mansky said, he would ask that voters not wear team jerseys while voting.

It is not unusual for voters to be asked to remove campaign-related clothing, Mansky said. He said he has never had a voter refuse to comply.

Former gubernatorial candidate Sue Jeffers, now a radio talk show host, attended Monday’s hearing in federal court. She is a Ramsey County elections judge who disagreed with Mansky’s interpretation of the law but said she was happy that no one would be denied the right to vote.

Jeffers, who calls herself a member of the tea party, said the tea party is not a political cause covered by state law.

“Look at the politicians — they run from the tea party!” Jeffers said.

After the Hennepin and Ramsey county decisions, Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie is advising all counties to bar similar materials. Senior Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Dan Rogan told Ericksen in court that it was the only campaign he’s aware of that specifically encourages supporters to wear campaign materials into the polls.

“That’s why it’s been singled out,” he said.

Minnesota Majority and the Minnesota Voters Alliance plan to set up an all-day hotline for voters to report suspected voter fraud, with the hotline number printed on the buttons. They’ve even offered a $500 reward for information leading to a voter fraud conviction, an idea that has raised eyebrows.

Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison and others have voiced concerns about that effort, saying it is aimed at suppressing voter turnout in poor and disadvantaged neighborhoods.

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One Response to Minnesota: Federal judge kicks tea party garb out of polling places

  1. james November 9, 2010 at 4:42 pm #

    Tea Parties are crazy.

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