A federal judge is expected to hold a hearing at 11:30 a.m. Monday to determine whether Maricopa County voters can wear a “tea party” shirt when they go to the polls Tuesday.
The Goldwater Institute late Thursday filed for a temporary restraining order on behalf of a Scottsdale resident following statements by the county’s director of elections, Karen Osborne, that voters who wear such a shirt would be asked to change or cover themselves.
Osborne made her comments to the Tribune last week after U.S. District Judge James Teilborg signed an order allowing anyone wearing a Flagstaff tea party T-shirt to be able to vote on Election Day in Coconino County.
Osborne told the Tribune on Friday that anytime anyone has been asked to cover or remove materials at a polling site that fall under the state’s electioneering law they have complied.
“We have never had anybody say I’m not going to do it. People have always been respectful of others in the polling place,” she said. “That’s our job. That’s where you should not be bombarded with anything.”
Should that not happen on Tuesday, Osborne said voters would be allowed to cast a ballot but their names would be written down for investigation later.
That is “shocking,” said Diane Cohen, an attorney with the Goldwater Institute.
“Even more shocking is their announcement that they will take the names and identifying information of voters who do wear a tea party shirt and investigate them later,” Cohen said. “That is stunning. You can imagine what an intimidation factor that plays.”
The issue with the T-shirts originates up north. Flagstaff resident Diane Wickberg wore a shirt that said “Flagstaff Tea Party — Reclaiming Our Constitution Now” when she went to vote during both the May 18 special election and the Aug. 24 primary election.
During the special election, Wickberg was told she could vote because no one else was at the polling site. During the primary election, she was told to cover up her shirt.
The Goldwater Institute filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on her behalf to allow her to wear her shirt during Tuesday’s general election.
Coconino County Recorder Candace Owens agreed Thursday morning to allow Wickberg — and anyone else — to wear the shirt.
“We would have hoped other counties would have taken the opportunity to learn from that case to examine their own policies and perhaps bring them in line with the Constitution,” Goldwater’s Cohen said.
But Osborne said it has been the rule since the 1950s that “any campaigning T-shirt that comes into the polling place we have, as we have … we ask people to either cover it up or turn their T-shirts inside out.”
Osborne had told the Tribune she hoped a ruling would come sooner since her last face-to-face meeting with polling site leaders was set for Saturday.
The Goldwater Institute argues there are many tea parities around the country, not one political party, and that the shirt does not endorse anything on the ballot.