We just finished up the first week in Texas and I feel like screaming. This is the first campaign in many years where I’ve worked for one candidate instead of a slate or traveling the state to donate my time to various candidates. Considering that it may just be the first time I have noticed the horrible ways many of these cities and election facilities are handled.
In Texas state law prohibits electioneering (the purposeful promotion of a candidate) within 100 feet of the outer doors of the facility. Sadly, that makes it difficult to speak to many people as much of the parking is within that frame. Most people come to the polls only knowing who they are voting for at the top of the ballot so electioneering at polls is a way to at least give some information. Citizens like these laws because they don’t won’t have have to go through the horror of saying “no, I know who I’m voting for. Thank you.” Longtime elected officials like these laws because it means less work to get qualified poll workers that might have to answer questions about their record instead of just running on name ID. So these laws stand and don’t get challenged, but at least they are universal around the state. The harder fight is against the local laws and election judges that overstep their boundaries.
Here are some of issues encountered this week:
Red Oak: Five Police Office for campaign material on a dashboard.
At the Red Oak City Hall the 100′ marker was placed at 118′ because that was the closest area not in the parking lot. Apparently, instead of forming a semi-circle around the doors so you’re always at 100′ radius they came straight out of the doors and drew a straight line. One of my friends was at this location and had her car parked at and some materials in a box on her dashboard. This was 104′ from the door. According to the election judge this was against the law and five police officers show up to deal with this situation. They ultimately decide she is in the right, but it took pulling five officers from answering other calls because a woman had a box of campaign materials in the legal area.
Sanger: Pulling Up Signs
At the Sanger Baptist Church they decided that they were going to pull up signs each night. This doesn’t sound unreasonable, but consider that once they agreed to be a polling location they also agreed to follow the law. They could have refused to be a location, but they did not. We have several statewide races occurring and there is no way those candidates can make it back each day to put up signs again. It creates an unfair bias towards certain candidates. The election organizers again should have made this clear. If they are outside the 100′ line it is illegal for others to touch those signs.
Krum ISD Administrative Building: Mandatory Background Checks for Electioneering
In another shocking first a volunteer at the Krum polling location was forced to submit to a background check to practice his First Amendment right. Voters go in and out of those locations and must be allowed to do so without reservation if they can legally vote. They cannot be hampered from their fundamental right, but somehow officials think those standing outside the 100′ line have given up their rights. Sadly, when I discussed this people too often took the schools side. If people don’t have the basic right to free speech then why are we holding elections anyway? If people are so concerned over this even though no known incident has occurred in all these years of voting then do not hold polling locations at schools (that includes rolling polling locations for bond elections) but you no person should be forced to submit to an unwarranted search because they want to make their voice heard.
To quote the recently departed Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, “The Constitution sometimes insulates the criminality of a few in order to protect the privacy of us all.”
Corinth City Hall: Limiting Signs
In Corinth, TX the city passed a sign ordinance going against the state law and has limited two signs per candidate at polling locations. Again, why are they limiting the speech and activity of citizens? Here the argument is made, “well at least it is fair to all candidates.” So what? Our rights are not about fairness. Having no signs would also be fair and equal. I’ve seen three presidential candidates with signs out. What about the rest? Shouldn’t we make it fair to them? No! They did not make the effort to work and have a voice so they don’t get to speak. Rights are not about fairness.
Denton Election Building: Limiting Information
In yet another firth apparently the election tyrant, I mean judge, at this location has decided that carrying push cards and information they may be given outside is considered an act of electioneering. As voters enter they are told to hide the information until they get to the booth, including hiding it under their shirt if some part sticks out of their pocket, or they can throw it away. The idea that someone acting as a judge would even put the thought of throwing information away is insane to start with, but that holding a stack of information in their hand is treated as active electioneering is completely bonkers.
In addition to hiding or throwing away materials they may have in hand this location also has people turn off their phones. The law in Texas somehow allows this at the discretion of the election judge. I have never seen it occur. You cannot be on your phone or taking photos, but almost every millennial I know that has their own voter list has it typed in on their phone. Unfortunately, these practices are leading to a less educated electorate.
“Jason, you need to just get over it.” Hell No!
It is true that all of these issues are are small. They are only slight infringements on our rights of freedom of speech. They only slightly take our information as a voter. The chilling effect on people speaking up is minuscule. All of those things are right, but our rights are a fragile thing. Chipping away at them here, a small crack there go unnoticed. Yet, if these small attacks on our rights are not confronted they will grow and the larger they grow the stronger they grow. I’m thankful to work for the Read King campaign where this is realized and measures are taken to stop this. I’m thankful that Denton has a representative like Ron Simmons that works on legislation and clarifying laws to end these attacks. And I’m thankful that it isn’t too late to stand up when we see actions like those I’ve written about.
If you are one of the people that pays attention. If you notice that “the emperor has no clothes.” You can and must speak and act. Those around you may label you a trouble maker or a troll, but one day they’ll see they need people like you. The country desperately needs you to stand in the gap and take a risk when you see abuse of power. You can act. Do something.