Letters to registrars asks them to make sure poll workers are properly trainedThe ACLU of Virginia today sent letters to every voter registrar in Virginia, asking them to protect the right to vote on Election Day. The letter from ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis focuses on two issues of concern to the ACLU: rejection of voters because they are not carrying identification and a requirement in some jurisdictions that voters remove buttons or clothing containing political messages before being allowed to vote.
Every Election Day the ACLU receives complaints from voters who are turned away from the polls because they are not carrying identification. In his letter, Willis writes: “ It is unconscionable that some poll officials are either ignorant of this law or choose -- for convenience or some more nefarious purpose -- not to make voters aware of it. It is therefore imperative that poll workers be reminded that identification is not a prerequisite to voting and that they be instructed to offer an affidavit of identity to any voter who is unable to present identification.”
The ACLU believes that poll workers should not wait for voters to ask for the affidavit, but offer it immediately after a voter has indicated he or she is not carrying an ID. To avoid misunderstandings, the ACLU recommends that poll workers make it clear to voters standing in line that they are not required to have identification.
“We believe that poor or improper training of poll workers leads to most of the confusion regarding the ID requirement,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis, “and that leads to voters missing out on the opportunity to participate in our democracy.”
In November 2004, voters from Chesterfield County and Charlottesville reported to the ACLU that they were turned away from the polls for wearing political buttons or t-shirts containing political messages. The ACLU wants registrars to know that voters have a right to wear such messages when they vote.
“Poll workers in some jurisdictions have misinterpreted the law that prevents electioneering in a polling place to mean that voters have no right to wear political messages.” said Willis. “Election officials need to understand that there is a difference between electioneering, which is actively trying to persuade someone to vote a certain way, and passively expressing a preference regarding a political issue or candidate. Electioneering in a polling place can be curtailed, but the First Amendment still protects voters’ right to express their views, so long as they are not disrupting the voting process.”
A sample copy of the letter is found at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/20051102-Regitrar-Warning-Letter-05.pdf.
Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022