N.H. Election Officials Prepare to Enforce New Law Banning Campaign Gear in Polling Places

Nov 7, 2016

A vendor sells merchandise outside a rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in Dubuque, Iowa, on Jan. 29.
Credit Getty Images

When voters across New Hampshire head to the polls Tuesday, they may want to leave their campaign swag at home.

That's because a new state law will be in effect that bans people from wearing anything into a polling site that promotes a particular candidate.

  Several other states, including New York, New Mexico, and Texas, have similar restrictions.

Mary Reynolds is city clerk for Laconia. She’s also the president of the New Hampshire City and Town Clerks Association.

She joined NHPR’s Morning Edition to talk about the new law.

There is this new law on the books about what can and can’t be worn inside polling sites. What do voters need to know about this law?

The law prohibits the wearing of campaign material inside the polling place. By wearing, we mean a shirt, a hat, a pin; anything that would promote a specific candidate.

Is this something that’s been an issue?

We haven’t experienced it before, but I do know some larger cities have experienced a problem with it.

Critics of this new law could argue this is a solution in search of a problem, or that it’s going to restrict voters’ freedom of speech.

Well, you wouldn’t be able to walk into a polling place and say vote for Trump or vote for Hillary, so it’s kind of the same thing.

The text of the state law guiding what can be worn inside polling sites. Words in bold are new.

Voters could be fined up to $1,000 for violating this law. How strictly do poll workers plan to enforce this?

The way we are handling it is that if someone walks in and they are requested to either go to the facilities and turn their shirt inside out, take their hat off, what have you, we’re going to make the request. We’re not going to cause an argument inside a polling place. We will not stop anyone from being able to vote. And then we will report the name of the person to the Secretary of State’s office and they will then report that to the Attorney General’s office. What the Attorney General’s office chooses to do at that point is up to them. They might issue a warning or something more severe.

Are you worried about longer lines, longer waits if people do want to make an issue out of this?

I don’t think so because we have enough people there to assist the voter if there is some sort of a commotion going on to separate that person from the rest of the voters so that there’s no halting to the process itself. We want to make the process as smooth as possible.

We’ve been hearing a lot of about rigged elections and rampant voter fraud during the campaign. As someone who actually runs an election at the local level, what’s your reaction when you hear that?

I just try to assure people that we check these machines before anything is put into service for Election Day. Everything is checked. We make sure that the readers are running and that the ballots are counted and secured. There’s very little opportunity to rig the election. There’s been a lot out there about the machines being able to be hacked. I can assure you these machines are not online. They’re not WiFi accessible. The ports on the back have all been removed. So there’s no way to plug anything into it. There’s very minimal chance that the election could be rigged or hacked at this point.

Have you been seeing an uptick in people coming in to register to vote this past week or two?

We did see a large push. We saw lots of people coming in. I would say we were taking in at least 50 over the counter every day. And there was a large push for absentee ballots up until this week.

Can you compare that to four years ago?

For us four years ago, we had many more absentee ballots and registrations than we did this time around which was really surprising for us. We were prepared for it to be much bigger than it was in 2012, but for us, it’s been a little bit less. I know for some municipalities it’s been busier and a lot more requests have come in, but for us, it’s been a little bit less.

What do you think that says about predicted turnout?

Unfortunately, I worry that means people aren’t voting because they don’t like either option. I just encourage people that you have to make a choice. You have to pick. We had so many people fight for us to have that voice.

And of course there’s a lot more to vote for down ticket.

Yes, there is. There’s a lot of county seats out there. There’s House of Representatives seats out there. So it’s not just the top of the ticket. We have to have our voice heard locally, as well.