Last week, a voter stepping warily into the First Assembly of God voting center took one look at the long line coiled around the place and wondered aloud if she should get in queue or try later. To which a voter in line deadpanned: “Depends on how you plan to vote.”
Political statement inappropriate in a state-regulated, county-enforced polling place or innocuous bon mot reflecting genuinely strong political sentiments among Democrats, Republicans and independents alike? Judging from our chat with McLennan County Election Administrator Kathy Van Wolfe this week, it’s a decision left largely to how fellow voters interpret it — and how election workers trying to keep the electoral process fair, orderly and legal ultimately judge it.
Given that election workers are trying to keep lines moving, verify photo ID and explain the process to first-time voters — yes, election staffers are seeing a fair number who have never voted or haven’t voted in years (which prompts applause at vote centers) — let’s agree on this: If you pride yourself in being American, you have a vested interest in avoiding wisecracks that could be misinterpreted. Be pleasant, be apolitical, vote your heart’s content — and then return to the daily toil and thrills of daily life.
No matter how proud you are of the president, no matter how dedicated you are to his defeat, the polling place is no place for a MAGA hat or NeverTrump T-shirt. To quote Van Wolfe: “Certainly, you can’t wear [campaign] hats, T-shirts, hand out [campaign-oriented] nail files or bumper stickers inside the polling place or inside that [100-foot] distance marker related to a candidate or a political party that’s on the ballot. Now, again, that’s interpretation. If I wear red or I wear blue, does that say I’m supporting a certain candidate or campaign? Like I said, if the election officials at that early voting site or polling place on Election Day feel like it is campaigning, they may ask that voter to take off the hat, put on a sweater or turn that shirt inside-out.”
Trib staff writer Tommy Witherspoon as well as a Trib editorial board member at different times this past weekend witnessed campaign tension at the Multi-Purpose Community Center voting center in East Waco involving supporters of Republican Precinct 2 Commissioner nominee Donis “D.L.” Wilson and Democratic nominee Patricia Chisolm-Miller. This involved everything from allegations of illegally filming curbside voting (kindly provided for physically incapacitated citizens) to loud music at an otherwise praiseworthy NAACP “Souls to the Polls” party nearby.
We imagine harried election officials must have had their hands full. Van Wolfe says the 100-foot ban on campaign activity should apply from anywhere actual voting is taking place, which would seem to reset boundaries if a handicapped voter is casting a ballot curbside. And while the NAACP’s “Souls to the Polls” bash in all reality likely favored Miller over Wilson, one might at least reconsider the volume knob next time. That said, we were happy to see photos of Republicans and Democrats joining the NAACP party at some point, sharing hot dogs and laughter and, we pray, reveling in all-American pride and freedoms.