ACLU Warns Virginia Election Officials Not to Reject Voters Unnecessarily

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
November 4, 2005 12:00 am

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Turning Away Voters for Political Apparel or Lack of ID is Illegal, ACLU Advises Registrars

RICHMOND, VA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia today sent letters to every voter registrar in Virginia asking for their help in protecting the right to vote on Election Day. The letter addressed reports of voters being rejected at the polls because they were not carrying identification as well as a requirement in some counties that voters remove buttons or clothing containing political messages before being allowed to vote.

“”It is unconscionable that some poll officials are either ignorant of these laws or choose — for convenience or some more nefarious purpose — not to make voters aware of them,”” said Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia Kent Willis. “”It is imperative that poll workers be reminded that identification is not a prerequisite to voting and that they be instructed to offer an affidavit of identity to any voter who is unable to present identification.””

The ACLU said affidavits should be offered to voters immediately after they indicate that they are not carrying ID, and that voters should not be required to request the form. To avoid misunderstandings, the ACLU recommends that poll workers inform voters while they are standing in line that they are not required to have identification.

“”We believe that poor or improper training of poll workers leads to most of the confusion regarding the ID requirement, and that leads to voters missing out on the opportunity to participate in our democracy,”” Willis said.

In November 2004, voters from Chesterfield County and Charlottesville reported that they were turned away from the polls for wearing political buttons or t-shirts containing political messages. In its letter, the ACLU informed registrars that voters have a right to wear such messages when they vote.

“”Poll workers in some jurisdictions have misinterpreted the law that prevents campaigning in a polling place to mean that voters have no right to wear political messages,”” said Willis. “”There is a difference between electioneering, which is actively trying to persuade someone to vote a certain way, and passively expressing a preference regarding a political issue or candidate. The First Amendment protects voters’ right to express their views, so long as they are not disrupting the voting process.””

A sample copy of the letter can be found at: /votingrights/access/21259lgl20051104.html

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