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Tea Party Shirt Causes Election Day Conflict

By Laurel Morales

Flagstaff, AZ – A T-shirt is stirring up trouble at the Flagstaff polls. Arizona Public Radio's Laurel Morales reports.

Last May Diane Wickberg went to her Tuesday Tea Party meeting and then to her polling place to vote. She was wearing a "Flagstaff Tea Party" T-shirt she wears every Tuesday. But when she arrived at her polling place election workers asked her to cover her shirt because voters are not allowed to wear political T-shirts inside a polling place. Wickberg did not have a jacket. So since there were no other voters present, the officials allowed Wickberg to cast her ballot.

Yesterday she showed up to vote wearing her Tea Party shirt on purpose.

WICKBERG: Everyone should have the freedom to wear whatever they want. If you had a Sierra Club T shirt, if you had a union T shirt would you kick them out? If they're going to do this selectively they need to do it across the board equally.

Again a poll worker asked Wickberg to cover her shirt. She obliged and put on a sweater. But first she showed the workers a letter from the state election director who reviewed Wickberg's complaint and concluded that she was not attempting to persuade voters.

Still Coconino County Recorder Candace Owens says Wickberg's shirt, which doesn't display any candidates, parties or propositions, constitutes electioneering.

OWENS: The law says no electioneering. In my mind what they're doing is electioneering. There are some candidates I think people know running under the Tea Party platform. I am going to have workers call me if there's an incident and we will deal with it on a case by case basis.

Attorney Gus Schneider accompanied Diane Wickberg to the polls. He's with the Goldwater Institute, a conservative government watchdog group.

SCHNEIDER: Miss Owens told me that Miss Wickberg could vote with her Tea Party shirt on if there was no one else in the room no one else was in the room. And I think it's a poor reflection on Miss Owens and the kind of election she runs when an attorney has to accompany a citizen in order for them to exercise their right to vote.

The Goldwater Institute plans to resolve the issue with the Secretary of State. And Schneider says he doesn't rule out a lawsuit.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff.