Spooky season is here, and that’s not just because Halloween is this weekend. In fact, the scariest thing about the next week might not have anything to do with ghouls, ghosts, and goblins, but rather, the fact that the U.S. is at the helm of one of the most contentious presidential elections in modern history.
With mounting concerns about widespread voter suppression — both with mail-in ballots and at physical polling places — and as people nationwide prepare to wait for the results to come in long after November 3 has passed, it’s no wonder some might be feeling a little more anxiety about this particular election. And perhaps a way many voters will alleviate that pain is by wearing their best Halloween costumes to polling places.
But before embarking on your (potentially long) quest to vote at the polls, it's important to consider what you are wearing — and what might get you turned away from a polling place. Most states have guidelines on passive electioneering, which includes wearing political or campaign paraphernalia and carrying campaign signage to a polling place. These restrictions are typically enforced within 50 to 200 feet of a polling place, and include bans on everything from buttons and hats, to t-shirts and even COVID masks donning campaign logos of your preferred party or candidate.
Voters should be especially careful this year when deciding what to wear to a polling place, and if you’re thinking about going in costume, make sure it’s not overtly political. Basically, if you’re planning on dressing up as President Donald Trump or Democratic nominee Joe Biden, that’s very scary, but you should also leave your costumes at home before heading out to vote.
"It’s important to remember that states have the authority to regulate what people can wear inside polling places in order to create a peaceful and orderly atmosphere for voters to exercise their rights," Brian Hauss, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said in a statement to Refinery29. "There are some constitutional limits on that authority – states can’t enact vague bans on all ‘political’ speech or favor one political viewpoint over another – but they can, for example, prohibit apparel that explicitly supports or opposes a political party or candidate."
The question over wearing political apparel to a polling place in part dates back to a 2010 dispute in Minnesota over voters wearing Tea Party attire and buttons that favored voter ID laws that were under consideration in the state. Supreme Court justices in 2018 heard arguments in the case, as they determined issues of free speech at polling places and whether barring political attire would be a violation of the First Amendment.
Every state has some kind of ban on electioneering on the books, but some go farther than others. In Delaware, for example, voters are prohibited from wearing any “button, banner or other object referring to issues, candidates or partisan topics.” In Kansas, electioneering includes “wearing, exhibiting or distributing labels, signs, posters, stickers or other materials that clearly identify a candidate in the election or clearly indicate support” for that candidate.
But since its 2020, voter suppression efforts are already underway across the country, the Associated Press reports. Two people showed up to a polling place in Florida where they were dressed as armed security guards in an act of voter intimidation. And in Memphis, Tennessee, a poll worker was fired after turning away voters for wearing “Black Lives Matter” masks and t-shirts. With just days left in the 2020 presidential election, voters should take precautions when heading to the polls, and if you do face any trouble when you get out and vote, make sure to call the Election Protection Hotline (866-OUR-VOTE) or the the Department of Justice Voting Rights Hotline (800-253-3931).
"Rules vary from state to state, so the best bet is to dress conservatively or bring some alternative apparel just in case," Hauss recommends. "Your ballot is more important than your outfit."