Will Dress Code Affect Your Right To Vote?

Voters wait outside a polling place to vote in the presidential primary, Tuesday, March 4, 2008, in Providence, R.I. The Democratic primary between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, is expected to be close and has drawn more voter interest than usual this year. (AP Photo/Stew Milne) AP Photo/Stew Milne

In Pennsylvania, two Pittsburgh-area elections officials are suing to permit a dress code at polling places, after a Pennsylvania Department of State memo advised counties last month that voters' attire doesn't matter.

In Virginia, where backers of both Barack Obama and John McCain are pushing for registration of college students in this battleground state, many students were wrongly advised by officials that registering could adversely affect their parents' taxes.

In Michigan, campaign officials are suing to prevent lists of foreclosed homes being used to prevent voters from voting at their local precinct.

And in Ohio, a legal skirmish over same-day registration and voting has not prevented thousands from casting absentee ballots a month before Election Day, even though they do not plan on being out of state come November 4.

Across the country, voter registration leading up to a highly-anticipated presidential election has been up, but so are concerns that bureaucracy, misreadings of election law, or just plain stupid mistakes may cost many Americans their right to exercise their vote.


No Shirt, No Shoes, No Vote?

Pennsylvanian Sue Nace thought election volunteers were joking last spring when they told her she would have to remove her T-shirt to vote in the U.S. presidential primary.

But it was no laughing matter to the poll workers-turned-fashion police, who said Nace's Barack Obama shirt was inappropriate electioneering - and made her cover the writing before casting a ballot.

Now, a political fight over what voters can wear to the polls is headed to court in Pennsylvania - with the Republican Party favoring a dress code and Democrats opposed.

Last month the state's highest election office issued a memo advising counties that voters' attire doesn't matter as long as the "voter takes no additional action to attempt to influence other voters."

In their lawsuit, two election officials warn that, if the memo stands, "nothing would prevent a partisan group from synchronizing a battalion of like-minded individuals ... to descend on a polling place, presenting a domineering, united front, certain to dissuade the average citizen who may privately hold different beliefs."

But because the memo is not legally binding, some counties have kept past restrictions on clothing and political buttons.

Wearing a Palin or Obama T-shirt? You may be sent home.

State Democratic Party Chairman T.J. Rooney said GOP support for the dress code is a partisan effort to scare away new voters.

"To go (to the polls) and engage in an expression of democracy and then be accosted by the fashion police is a form of voter intimidation," he said.

The state Republican Party says Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell's administration crafted a partisan memo that would open the door to abuses.

"The first thing would be a button or a shirt, and maybe the next thing would be a musical hat," said GOP chairman Robert Gleason, who called a news conference in support of dress codes.

Douglas Hill, head of Pennsylvania's association of county commissioners, believes the state's 67 counties are now evenly split on the question. Before the memo, counties leaned toward banning politically polarizing clothing and buttons because "they didn't want to get into fine-line disputes," he said.

At least four states - Maine, Montana, Vermont and Kansas- explicitly prohibit wearing campaign buttons, stickers and badges inside polling places, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures and state officials.

In Kentucky, elections officials last month told poll workers they should admit voters decked out in campaign apparel, after e-mails circulated warning that Obama supporters would be turned away if they wore shirts and pins.


Sorry, You've Been De-Registered

With memories of past election hassles, many are opting to vote by absentee ballot, to avoid long lines or questionable electronic voting machines. However, the process to obtain and submit an absentee ballot, while easier in some states, also has pitfalls.

To obtain an absentee ballot, an absentee application form may be submitted. Because of a printing error on an application form sent out by the McCain campaign in several states, thousands of voters who requested absentees were rejected if the voter failed to check a box that needn't have been on the form in the first place.

More stringent rules about checking the eligibility of voters means also that many registrations are rejected because the name or address on the form may not EXACTLY match the information on a person's driver's license or in another official database.

If you registered as John Q. Public but your license reads JONATHAN Q. Public, you may be challenged at the polls - turned away or asked to fill out a provisional ballot that can be counted (or not) once the information can be verified.

To check whether you are registered, there are online links to Web sites and phone numbers of local elections offices at CanIVote.org.

There is also an online calendar of voter registration deadlines, state-by-state, at VotersUnite.org.



Lost Your House, Lost Your Vote?

Michigan election officials say they will remind local clerks that home foreclosure lists are not sufficient to challenge voting status.

State elections director Chris Thomas said foreclosure lists alone aren't enough to contest a voter's residence. A person whose home is in the foreclosure process still could be living at the address on the foreclosure list.

The notice could ease an ongoing flap about disputed allegations of possible challenges to Michigan voters in Macomb County, considered a possible key area in the presidential contest between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.

The Obama campaign filed a lawsuit to prevent the Michigan GOP from using foreclosure lists as a residency challenge.

Marion County GOP Chairman Tom John told the Indianapolis Star that while his party has no plans to pursue such challenges, he wouldn't rule it out.

"I think it would be a solid basis for asking someone to vote provisionally," John said.


Old Enough To Vote, But Not Here?

In late August, a notice by a Montgomery County election official aimed at clarifying the voter registration process for Virginia Tech students actually mislead potential voters, creating a firestorm. It read in part,
"The Code of Virginia states that a student must declare a legal residence in order to register. A legal residence can be either a student's permanent address from home or their current college residence. By making Montgomery County your permanent residence, you have declared your independence from your parents and can no longer be claimed as a dependent on their income tax filings."
The statement also warned that students could lose their scholarships as the result of an address change.

After the IRS disputed the tax claims, the official released another notice which clarified some aspects but still caused concern that students would not be allowed to vote, in part because of the vagaries of declaring an "abode" and a "domicile."

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