Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky

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At a Glance

Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky is a challenge to a Minnesota law that restricts the wearing of political apparel inside the polling place on Election Day. The law has been in place since 1893, helping to prevent voter intimidation and ensure orderly and safe elections. CLC’s argues that the law’s legitimate applications serve important purposes that protect voting as the core of American democracy.

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About this Case

About the Case

Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky is a challenge to a Minnesota law that restricts the wearing of political apparel inside the polling place on Election Day. The law has been in place since 1893, helping to prevent voter intimidation and ensure orderly and safe elections.

The plaintiffs are groups whose members wore political apparel, including Tea Party paraphernalia and “Please I.D. Me” buttons, to the polls. They wore these buttons in part to falsely convince others that they needed IDs to vote – even though Minnesota voters had previously rejected a ballot measure that would have required voter ID.

The suit initially challenged the law as it was applied to the specific items that plaintiffs’ members had tried to wear inside polling places. Two federal courts found that requiring Tea Party paraphernalia and “Please I.D. Me” buttons to be removed or covered while inside the polling place was a reasonable effort to avert voter intimidation and confusion.

Plaintiffs’ case at the Supreme Court now argues exclusively that the law as written is overbroad and should be struck down entirely.

What’s at stake

Many states and localities throughout the country have laws similar to Minnesota’s.

As the Supreme Court explained over 25 years ago in Burson v. Freeman, these types of laws are as old as the secret ballot itself and help prevent voter coercion and maintain decorum at the polls. Plaintiffs’ “Please I.D. Me” buttons are a perfect example of why these laws are so important to prevent Election Day chaos. Indeed, laws that prevent confusing and intimidating messages at the polls go to the heart of protecting American self-governance.

CLC has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Minnesota. CLC’s brief argues that, in addition to the interests recognized in Burson and explained in Minnesota’s brief, these laws serve several other compelling interests. Both Republican and Democratic state attorneys general of Tennessee, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Texas, and Utah all agree with this position, as stated in the brief they filed with the Supreme Court.

First, they afford voters the opportunity to peacefully contemplate their electoral choices during the last few minutes before they vote. Citizens should be free from aggressive political messaging right before they cast their ballots so that they can weigh their decisions. Second, these laws help ensure that Election Day unites Americans by preventing polling places from becoming sites of partisan rancor and political tribalism. This is an important way to celebrate our democracy and remind voters that election results, even if disappointing, reflect the collective judgment of the fellow citizens with whom they waited in line. Finally, these types of laws help ensure that poll watchers and poll workers do not intentionally or subconsciously discriminate against voters based on the apparel the voters wear. These important principles far outweigh the minor burden of asking a voter to remove a button or cover up a t-shirt for a few minutes while they vote, especially since polling places are not traditional forums for debate.

CLC’s brief also argues that, under the Supreme Court’s First Amendment doctrine, Minnesota’s law is plainly valid on its face. Courts should strike down a law for being overbroad only if its problematic applications overshadow its legitimate applications. The plaintiffs and their supporters in this case have concocted a series of hypotheticals, none of which have actually occurred, and any of which could be cured by a more limited lawsuit. CLC’s brief argues that the law’s legitimate applications far outweigh these imagined scenarios and serve important purposes that protect voting as the core of American democracy.

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