Campaign Literature Banned 150 Feet from Polls

By: Jon Kalahar Email
By: Jon Kalahar Email

In a little more than a month, Mississippi is expecting one of the largest voter turnouts in its history. But when you head to the polls Nov. 4, keep in mind what you wear could keep you from casting your ballot.

The special election between Roger Wicker and Ronnie Musgrove is motivating voters across the state to get to the polls, as is the face-off in the third district. Either Democrat Joel Gill or Republican Gregg Harper will replace Chip Pickering, who did not run this year. And that's before we mention the presidential race between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain.

In last year's August primary, supporters turned out in big numbers to help out their candidate. The same is expected this year, but state law says it is unlawful for a candidate or representative to post campaign literature within 150 feet of a polling place. That includes what's on a voter's back.

"The law states that there'll be no campaigning and that can be considered campaigning," said Thomas Yates, Rankin County election commissioner.

Voters cannot wear T-shirts, hats, or buttons supporting their favorite candidate within the 150 foot buffer. And you won't be allowed to vote unless you change or cover the shirt. Yates has an easy solution.

"Either go in the restroom, turn it wrong side out before they vote, or cover it up with a jacket," advised Yates.

Yates says it's an issue every year, but only a minor worry for poll workers.

And right now, with absentee voting ongoing, each county circuit clerk's office is considered a polling place. So those rules will apply there just as they will Nov. 4.

And even with an expected record turnout, Yates said he doesn't expect anyone to cause problems.

"I think it'll end up being one or two," said Yates. "I don't expect a flood of T-shirt wearers to show up."

The county election handbook for poll workers, printed by the Mississippi Secretary of State's Office, says campaign T-shirts are considered campaign literature and must be removed or covered. Democrat and Republican emblems are also prohibited.

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