The Bulletin Board

House committee recommends ending ban on campaign paraphernalia in polling places

By: - November 15, 2021 2:24 pm
A man stands at a voting booth

The House Election Committee recommended “ought to pass” on House Bill 87, which would strike out a law prohibiting the items inside polling places. (Hill Street Studios | Getty Images)

New Hampshire’s ban on voter-worn campaign clothing and paraphernalia on Election Day could be eliminated under a bill recommended on party lines by a House committee Friday.

Voting 11-9, the House Election Law Committee recommended “ought to pass” on House Bill 87, which would strike out a law prohibiting the items inside polling places.

The bill would allow voters to wear clothing or paraphernalia “that displays a candidate’s name, likeness, or logo, a ballot measure’s number, title, subject, or logo, a political party’s name or logo, or any communication that a reasonable person would believe explicitly advocates for or against any candidate, political party, or measure.”

All of those items are currently banned during voting, except when they are unable to be removed.

Republicans and Democrats have presented the existing law in strikingly different terms.

Democrats say it’s necessary to preserve neutrality and guard against pressure or intimidation toward voters once they enter the polling place. Republicans say it’s an unneeded curb on free speech.

HB 87 would allow voters and those inside the polling place but outside the roped off area to wear campaign materials. Any election officers, ballot clerks, approved observers, and challengers would still be barred from wearing clothing or paraphernalia. 

Rep. Joe Sweeney, a Salem Republican who also serves as the executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party, said the bill is also meant to allow campaign workers – who often wear their candidates’ merchandise on Election Day – to quickly cast their ballots and go back to work without needing a change in clothing.

“The spirit of this bill … is to make sure that people could go in and vote with election materials in a legal polling location without having to take off the election materials,” Sweeney said.

Rep. Paul Bergeron, a Nashua Democrat, disagreed.

“I have concerns that a lot of people will pile into polling places wearing T-shirts, hats, and stickers on their clothing that are promoting causes or candidates that appear in the ballot,” Bergeron said. “And I can frankly envision situations where these people are clogging up the pathways for voters or sitting in the stands having a little cheering section going on. I can’t support it.” 

The committee’s recommendation will go before the full House for a vote in January. 

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel. Email: [email protected]