KNAU and Arizona News
Tue September 21, 2010
Federal Judge to Decide on Polling Place Attire
Phoenix, AZ – The fight surrounds a T-shirt that Diane Wickberg wore when she
showed up at the polls in last month's primary. It said --
Flagstaff Tea Party -- Reclaiming Our Constitution Now. Election
officials would not let her vote until she covered it up with a
sweater. Coconino County Recorder Candace Owens acknowledged
nothing on the shirt specifically asked people to vote a certain
way. But she said it fits the definition of electioneering which
is not allowed within 75 feet of polling places.
(It's a fine line. So we are dealing with each individual case by
Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute, who filed suit Monday on
Wickberg's behalf, said the problem with that is it leaves too
much to individual interpretation. He said in this case it wasn't
someone wearing a T-shirt that said Republican Party or
(The Tea Party is an extremely decentralized group. You cannot
draw the same kind of generalizations from what Tea Parties do.
You and I can start a Tea Party. And we could or could not
Bolick also said the Tea Party is not a recognized political
party. Owens said that's legally irrelevant to the question of
whether someone's attire amounts to electioneering.
(Tea Party candidates, I think you know, people have run under
that particular, I wouldn't say under that party. But under the,
they call themselves, they're affiliated with that philosophy.
It's political in nature.)
And Owens said the question of whether Wickberg's particular Tea
Party group endorsed anyone ignores the fact that many candidates
specifically advertised themselves as being Tea Party candidates.
The lawsuit will determine more than what sayings on clothes are
permissible. It is designed to fire a warning shot of sorts at
election officials throughout the state. Bolick wants Judge James
Teilborg to impose punitive damages in the form of a fine against
Owens, saying in legal papers her conduct was -- quote --
malicious, oppressive and in reckless disregard
to Wickberg's rights.
(What Candace Owens has done here is really to become a renegade
public official. We certainly expect to seek modest damages. But
we want to send a letter to elected officials they cannot deprive
people of their rights because they are personally offended by
their political beliefs.)
Owens said no one was denied any rights. Wickberg got to vote
after she covered her T-shirt with the sweater. No date has been
set for a hearing. For Arizona Public Radio this is Howard