ACLU Asks Virginia Police Chiefs to Train Personnel on the Rights of Persons Who Register Voters

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
September 24, 2008 12:00 am

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ACLU of Virginia
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Letter to Police Chiefs Prompted by Complaints from Individuals Engaged in Door-to-Door Voter Registration Drives

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: acluva@acluva.org

Richmond, VA – The ACLU of Virginia is mailing letters today to every police chief in Virginia – 185 in all – asking each to immediately initiate programs to educate local law enforcement personnel on the right of individuals to engage in door-to-door voter registration drives.

The ACLU’s letter also includes a warning that the ACLU is prepared to provide legal representation to any person whose right to solicit individuals to register to vote is violated.

The letters were prompted by recent complaints from persons going door-to-door to register voters before the October 6 deadline. In each case the individuals involved were told by police or other officials that the activity violated a local ordinance or policy.

The letters are also a result of the ACLU’s long experience with suppression of political expression in the weeks leading up to elections. In addition to assisting those engaged in voter registration drives, the ACLU has acted to protect the right of homeowners to post campaign signs and of campaign workers to distribute political literature.

“The right to go door to door to register voters, to canvass for candidates, or to promote one’s religious beliefs is deeply ingrained in the American landscape, both legally and culturally.” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “Thankfully, the Supreme Court has struck down every local ordinance that attempts to interfere with this basic First Amendment right.”

“The ACLU acknowledges that individuals going door to door to register voters do not have a right to enter private property where signs indicate they are not allowed and that they must leave property at the behest of owners,” added Willis.

The ACLU’s letter cites Watchtower Bible and Tract Society v. Village of Stratton, a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that political and religious canvassers could not be required to obtain a permit or even give notice before going door to door with their message.

A copy of the ACLU’s letter to Virginia’s police chiefs is available at: www.acluva.org

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