Ohio voters to get ponchos to cover school gear

AP News
Posted: Apr 08, 2011 8:03 PM
Ohio voters to get ponchos to cover school gear

Voters in one Ohio county who show their school pride at the polls next month will be asked to cover up with a poncho.

Elections officials in southeast Ohio's Washington County don't want people coming to polling places wearing shirts or other attire promoting local schools that have hotly contested tax measures on the ballot.

Those who do show up to vote on May 3 in a shirt, hat or other article of clothing with the name or mascot of one of the Marietta or Warren Local schools will be handed a poncho by a poll worker, county elections board director Peggy Byers said Friday. Voters will be allowed to wear school colors, she said.

The policy was first reported by WBNS-TV of Columbus.

The school tax issues are stirring up feelings that are "kind of intense either way," Byers said. "A lot of people are either real for them or real against them."

Voters in the Warren Local district are being asked to approve a measure to fund new school buildings at a cost of about $200 a year to the average taxpayer. It has already been rejected three times in the past year. Opponents are "disgruntled" that tax dollars have been used to put the issue on the ballot multiple times, but the district needs to replace its aging schools because of safety and other concerns, said Superintendent Tom Gibbs.

School Board President Debbie West said she thought the elections board policy "may be going a little too far."

"I wonder how they came to the conclusion that wearing clothing showing school pride was indicative of being either for or against the issue since people on both sides claim to be supportive of the school districts," West said in an email.

District faculty, staff and supporters have been asked to keep the school garb at home when they vote on May 3, he said.

The elections board voted unanimously to adopt its poncho policy this week to follow a state directive against displays of "campaign attire or paraphernalia" at polling places, Byers said.

Campaigning close to polling places is prohibited, said Matt McClellan, press secretary for Secretary of State Jon Husted. He said the office doesn't feel wearing a school shirt is electioneering but views it as a local issue.

Carrie Davis of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio said courts have allowed only narrow restrictions on political speech, saying officials cannot restrict it more than necessary to avoid voter intimidation. She said wearing a T-shirt or button on an issue would be permitted, as long as it didn't encourage a vote one way or the other.