Coconino County Promises to Protect Voters' Free Speech at Polling Places

Posted on March 14, 2011 | Type: Press Release
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Flagstaff, Ariz. – Coconino County has accepted a settlement in a federal lawsuit filed by the Goldwater Institute on behalf of Flagstaff voter Diane Wickberg. The suit was filed after Mrs. Wickberg was told by County poll workers at her voting precinct to cover up her T-shirt with the words “We the People” and “Flagstaff Tea Party – Reclaiming our Constitution Now” during two different elections in 2010.

Coconino County has agreed to implement objective standards at voting precincts to enforce the state electioneering law while protecting the voters’ right to free speech. The new standards are based on a decision issued by U.S. District Court Judge James Teilborg in a similar suit brought in October 2010 by the Goldwater Institute against Maricopa County, which had issued a ban on T-shirts with the words “tea party” on them.

Specifically, Coconino County’s new rules define electioneering to provide that only conduct that advocates for or against a candidate, a political party, or an issue on the ballot may be banned at the polling site. The County has also agreed to provide additional training to poll workers for objective enforcement of election laws and to protect against discrimination in the polling place.

“I’m grateful Coconino County recognizes we do not give up all of our rights to free speech when we cast an election ballot,” Diane Wickberg said. “Now, voters will know our fundamental freedoms are protected as we carry out our civic responsibility at the polling booth.”

The Goldwater Institute also worked with state Representative Jeff Dial in drafting House Bill 2676 to clearly define electioneering in state law. “The Goldwater Institute will continue its efforts until every election official understands that voters do not have to check their First Amendment Rights to freedom of speech and expression at the polling site door,” said Diane Cohen, a senior attorney with the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.

Read more about this and other lawsuits filed by the Goldwater Institute to protect individual rights and keep government within its constitutional limits at www.goldwaterinstitute.org. The Goldwater Institute is an independent government watchdog whose work is made possible by the generosity of its supporters.

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