Madison, VA- The ACLU of Virginia is providing legal representation to a Madison County woman charged with a Class 1 Misdemeanor for wearing a McCain t-shirt to her polling place on November 4.
Leigh Purdum turned herself in to the Madison County Sheriff’s Department on December 1 after receiving a warrant charging her with violating a Virginia law recently interpreted to prohibit the wearing of campaign buttons, t-shirts and other apparel with political messages in polling places.
“Thousands of people wear political messages to malls, libraries, supermarkets and work everyday without any problems,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “The government has no business regulating this kind of personal expression, especially when there is no evidence whatsoever that it is disruptive.”
Although many voters wore political attire to the polls on Election Day, Ms. Purdum may be the only person in the state who has been charged with committing a crime for doing it.
On October 14, the State Board of Elections decided that an existing state law against “exhibit[ing]… campaign materials to another person” near or in a polling place applied to voters’ attire that expresses a view on particular candidates or political parties. Previously, most election officials interpreted the law to prohibit only the distribution of campaign materials, such as sample ballots and candidates’ brochures, in polling places.
Two weeks ago, in a separate legal action, the ACLU of Virginia, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, and The Rutherford Institute filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the policy as a violation of voters’ First Amendment rights. The three free speech organizations represent Jill Borak, of Fairfax County, and Charles Epes, of Richmond who were told to remove or cover Obama campaign paraphernalia worn to the polls on Election Day.
Telephone calls to the ACLU of Virginia on Election Day indicated that the SBE policy was enforced inconsistently by jurisdictions across the state. The attorneys representing Ms. Purdum are Steve Rosenfield, Sebastian Graber, Jeff Fogel, and ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg.
Contact: Kent Willis, 804-644-8022
SBE Guidelines, October 23, 2008: http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/20081216Oct23SBEGuidelines.pdf