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Electioneering, or free speech?

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Electioneering, or Free Speech?

(For the legal word on what the shirt means in Texas, click here.)

It might be getting ugly out there in the balloting for President. A McCain supporter advised me today What Not to Wear. I showed up to vote in the least obvious Obama shirt that I own (the other says “Vote Nov. 4” in Democratic Blue, with Obama/Biden in yellow type), but the logo on my garment today was unmistakable. Especially to the fellow standing at the exit of the voting line at our local grocery, which doubles as an early Travis County voting location here in Texas. I made a point of talking with everyone who was working the election, judge, clerks, volunteers, all while wearing my shirt.

I thought of it like I was wearing a Spurs t-shirt to a basketball game in San Antonio. But when I pass my fellow citizen, he mutters something toward me that includes the word “shit.” I step a few paces along my way, then realize he must have been addressing me. Sure enough, I turn around and see him glaring at me.

I walk back and ask him, “Excuse me, did you just say something to me?”

“You need to take that shit off,” he says, eyeing my shirt. “It’s illegal.”

“So do you think we should take it up with the election judge?” At this suggestion he grows quiet, but the glower is still on his face. “Because we can do that if you want.”

“It’s illegal,” he repeats to me, as certain as any Fox News huckster shouting down a TV guest. At this point his wife, who he’s been waiting for, walks past the two of us and mutters to him, “C’mon.”

He walks alongside his wife and I call out after him, “God bless you.” Because whatever we disagree on, it seems he needs a blessing today. Election turnout has been heavy, which has rarely been a good sign for Republican supporters in years past. His reply to my “God bless you,” muttered over his shoulder, freezes me a little.

“You don’t know enough about God to say that!” And at that, I repeat my blessing to him, a little louder. But I’m rattled, as if I am a Spurs fan wearing a jersey to Boston Garden for a Celtics game.

Our little exit poll exchange has nothing to do with the outcome here in Texas, and both of us probably know that. I live in the Blue Island (Travis County) of a Very Red State. This is no battleground; we haven’t seen either McCain or Obama since March here. No local TV ads, either, or even robo-calls. McCain wins Texas next month, barring a miracle. But both the McCain fellow and I get to have our say today.

And both of us get to wear our shirts, at least at this polling place. The Republicans are now working in battleground states to keep the shirts off the backs of voters, in violation of the First Amendment. But that’s an Amendment that’s been trampled for so long that even as a journalist, making my living for 25 years off that law, that I tire of defending it. We are already hearing about how McCain will lose this election because of the stock market crash, along with the claims of voter registration fraud via ACORN. There are even worse things being said about Obama — (Muslim, not native American, nonsense and slurs) by well-heeled media pros and rank amateurs, according to this month’s Harper’s magazine.

While my fellow citizen sidled away, his Harley-Davidson dress shirt ruffling off his 50-ish frame, I couldn’t help but think there will be some sore losers out there on Nov. 4. It is not electioneering to wear a t-shirt to the voting booth unless a judge tells you to take it off. There’s no state law that defines this, in Texas or anyplace else, yet.

But it could get ugly out there in the next two weeks. Early voting was up 50 percent on Opening Day yesterday in Travis County, a massive increase. Even the election judge at the grocery was boasting of the heavy turnout. That will mean a 75 percent turnout nationally, if the trend holds across the US.

Go vote, and wear whatever you want. But bring another shirt in the car, just in case the First Amendment is getting “shit” upon at your polling place. You might want to remember that everyone knows their own God well enough to offer a blessing, no matter what kind of shirt you display. As for me, I think the US Constitution is enough law to make everybody dump the foul speech — which will keep us all divided — away from the voting sites.

Written by ronseybold

October 21, 2008 at 9:32 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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