SIDNEY — Voters across Ohio have been casting their absentee votes for the Nov. 6 election. And in Shelby County, one local voter was surprised when he was asked to “cover up” the logo on his shirt when he went to cast his vote Wednesday.
“Board of elections statewide are tasked with protecting the 100 foot neutral zone around the polling places,” said Shelby County Board of Elections Chairman Chris Gibbs. “During absentee voting, there’s only one polling place to defend.
“Within 100 feet of the neutral zone includes the board of elections office,” he said. “That means there is no campaigning, no political signs and no advocacy for a candidate’s position, levy or issue.”
Gibbs said during the presidential election, if a person had entered the neutral zone to vote with a “Make America Great Again” Donald Trump hat or a “Moving On” Hillary Clinton T-shirt, they were asked to remove the piece of clothing or cover it up.
And that’s what happened Wednesday morning when Sidney City Schools Superintendent Bob Humble went to the board of elections to cast his absentee ballot. He was told he couldn’t vote because of the logo on his shirt.
“I totally understand the rules,” said Humble, “but I respectfully disagree with the rules. I totally get it if I had walked in with a ‘vote for candidate’ pin on.
“But I consider this (shirt with Sidney City Schools logo) my uniform,” he said. “Other than the night I was hired, I’m always in Sidney gear. It’s my work uniform. I wouldn’t someone to be mad and leave (the polling place) because they had to change their shirt.
“On election day, that might be the only time a person has to go to the polls. If they couldn’t cover it up or turn it inside out, what will they do?” asked Humble. “We are going to cover it up and we’re going to follow the rules and I just disagree with the rules.”
Gibbs said he appreciated the opportunity to talk about the issue with Humble Wednesday afternoon.
“I really appreciate Superintendent Humble raising the awareness of logos and apparel in the polling locations,” said Gibbs. “We’ve struggled with this issue to be reasonable on one hand while protecting voter rights to a neutral polling place on the other. The discussion gave both of us a chance to educate voters.”
Board of Elections Director Pam Kerrigan said many of the poll workers take tape, extra large T-shirts and coats with them on election day. The person has the opportunity to use one of the items to cover up the logo or campaign materials.
“Poll workers have to make a determination at a heated moment,” said Kerrigan.
“Under no circumstances is a person prohibited from voting,” said Gibbs.
If the person declines to remove the hat, pin or turn a shirt inside out, then the poll worker fills out an incident report, which is given to the board of elections after the polls close for the day. But the person is still allowed to cast his or her vote.
Gibbs said the goal on election day is to “have a neutral zone that is a safe space for other voters.
“Logos on shirts has been an issue in the past,” said Gibbs. “Our policy has been a ‘zero tolerance.’ What we’re trying to do is protect the safe space for the other people in the polling place. In this day and age, we don’t know what will offend or set someone else off. So in Shelby County, we ask people to cover these logos up.”
Gibbs said the board will revisit the issue after the November election because of a Supreme Court ruling in Minnesota. The judges there ruled against a ban on political apparel at the polls. They said the ban was too vague to be enforced.
“We will be putting this on the BOE agenda after the election for review. It never hurts to ensure your operating policy is still in step with current events. This is in light of the June 2018 Supreme Court decision against the State of Minnesota where this issue was addressed,” said Gibbs. “Unfortunately the Ohio SOS (Secretary of State) office has failed to provide guidance on how the Minnesota decision will be implemented consistently throughout Ohio. Until that uniform guidance is provided we are making it easy – cover it up.
“But for now, we want to let the public know what to expect when they visit the polling place and what they will be asked,” said Gibbs.
Kerrigan said the board has received requests for 2,200 absentee ballots. The final day to register for the November election was Oct. 9 and the office was busy with people registering.
Wednesday was the first day people could go to to board of elections to cast their vote.
On election day,” said Kerrigan, “voters will go to the check-in table and check in at the e-Pollbook.”
The registered voter will be required to show their driver’s license. With the change in Ohio law when licenses are renewed, voters can present the “paper” license if they haven’t received their new license in the mail. They can also use their old license, she said, if it hasn’t expired.
Other forms of identification that will be accepted include a military ID, utility bill, pay beck stub, a carry/conceal license, bank statement or other government document.
“If the voter has a logo (On shirt or hat), they will be informed at that point by the polling worker that they need to cover it up. No one is denied the right to vote.”
On election day, the American flags outside the polling place represents the 100-foot neutral zone.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.