Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky
The Minnesota Voters Alliance supports measures to combat election fraud, including voter identification laws. The Tea Party favors political policies designed to limit government’s reach. Minnesota voter Andy Cilek, executive director of the Minnesota Voters Alliance and Tea Party member, arrived at his polling place on Election Day 2010 wearing a Tea Party t-shirt featuring the Gadsden Flag captioned, “Don’t Tread on Me,” and a “Please I.D. Me” button. A poll worker temporarily prevented Mr. Cilek from voting because he was wearing apparel outlawed by a Minnesota statute that forbids any “political” apparel at a polling place.
Minnesota’s law broadly prohibits any material “designed to influence and impact voting,” or “promoting a group with recognizable political views” even when the apparel makes no reference to any issue or candidate on the ballot. This law is far broader than laws that forbid active campaigning or electioneering in a polling place. Whether a given t-shirt or button violates the law is left to the discretion of local election workers. Mr. Cilek, Minnesota Voters Alliance, and other groups sued to overturn this overbroad law as violating their constitutional right to free speech.
The district court rejected the claims even while noting that the Tea Party and other plaintiff organizations do not endorse candidates and had no relation to any particular issue on the November, 2010, ballot. A split Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed on the ground that a blanket ban on political apparel was justified by the government’s interest in maintaining “peace, order, and decorum” at the polling place. A dissenting judge rejected the notion that a passive and peaceful voter wearing a t-shirt naming the American Legion or NAACP presented any risk of disruption to the polling place or somehow confuses or unduly influences voters.
In upholding the law, the lower courts basically granted the government carte blanche to ban any type of speech—other than voting—at polling places. Now the fate of the ban rests with the Supreme Court.