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Bill would allow political clothing at polls

A state House committee has approved a bill overturning a ban on political apparel and other materials such as buttons and signs within 75 feet of polling places.

State law considers any display of support or opposition for a candidate, ballot proposal or political party to be electioneering, which is prohibited. Civil liberties organizations have complained it violates First Amendment Rights.

The bill, proposed by Gilbert Republican Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, would allow political apparel and also limit the definition of electioneering to verbal speech by a person that aims to persuade someone to vote in a particular manner.

The issue was raised by a Flagstaff woman who sued Coconino County because she wanted to wear a tea party T-shirt while voting in 2010. A U.S. District judge issued an injunction that the woman and anyone else could wear a tea party shirt to the polls on a particular election day, but did not make a broader ruling on the issue.

Maricopa County was also sued in 2010 by a Scottsdale man who wanted to wear a tea party shirt to the polls. The Arizona Republic reported that a judge issued a restraining order in that case allowing political paraphernalia like a tea party shirt as long as it did not express a view about a particular candidate, proposition or party on the ballot.

Farnsworth said he thinks it is “absurd” that if someone hands you political materials near the polls and even if you agree the message, you have to get rid of them before entering the polling place. He also said he didn’t feel that if he as a candidate wears apparel promoting his campaign, it will influence people to vote for him.

Karen Osborne, the Maricopa County Elections Director, spoke against the bill and expressed concern that there was nothing in the bill barring election workers from displaying their political views.

The bill advanced by a vote of 6-3, with Republicans in favor. The bill will go before the full House if it passes another committee.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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