...marked "beware of the leopard."
October 25, 2012 10:13 AM   Subscribe

(US election filter) Is it unlawful for me to post some homemade additional "vote here" signs to make my polling place easier to find?

I'm a Minnesota resident, and we were redistricted recently. This means my polling place changed for the first time in decades. The new location is a tiny, hard to find park building at the end of a dead-end street. The only signage during the primary election was directly in front of the building where it was too late to help anybody. Moreover, there is a school nearby that shares the same name as this park building; I went there in first in error and I can easily imagine other doing the same, and not having my tenacity in figuring out the correct location.

I brought up this issue with poll workers in the primary and their reaction was very "meh whatever."

I'd like to make a couple "vote here" sandwich boards pointing the way to this location. I'd probably make them as identical as possible to the one outside the polling location. I'd post them in the right-of-way.

I'm wondering if doing this is somehow illegal?
posted by werkzeuger to Law & Government (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Campaigns in MN do this all the time, so it should be fine. However, IANAL. I'd call your county elections office and ask them if you're worried about getting in trouble.
posted by lunasol at 10:19 AM on October 25, 2012

Also, thanks for doing this! It's a great idea.
posted by lunasol at 10:19 AM on October 25, 2012 [9 favorites]

The only thing I can think to check is: a lot of polling places have rules about keeping any kind of political campaigining a certain distance from the polling spot itself -- like, "you can't be handing out flyers any closer than 750 feet from the polling spot." If you're outside that polling spot, though, then you can go nuts (well, given the community's own standards).

I may check to make sure whether there's any rule about that, just to be on the safe side.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:19 AM on October 25, 2012

I have no idea of the legality (it seems legal to me, since in most jurisdictions it's fine to put up "bday party this way" and "yard sale next left...right...right...left...left...right...left...here!" signs). But I would do it because it's helping people exercise their right to vote, it's a good thing to do, and it's a good idea.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:20 AM on October 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

You could tell the appropriate campaign - I suspect they'll have more of an incentive than the poll workers.
posted by zamboni at 10:31 AM on October 25, 2012

Unless you sign it, who cares about the legality? If you're helping people find their polling place, great. The worst that could happen is they get removed, and you will be out a bit of money and time.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:35 AM on October 25, 2012

This isn't legal advice, which you won't get anyway, but I think you should go ahead and do it. IANYL, but you're not going to get into legal trouble over this.
posted by smorange at 10:39 AM on October 25, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for answers so far.

Would it also be okay to put up a sign at the school saying, in effect, "this is the wrong place, it's the park building!"
posted by werkzeuger at 10:59 AM on October 25, 2012

Best answer: IAAL, IANYL. I do some elections work, so we are starting to gear up.

Things like this would be determined by your state's election code, but the general rule regarding signage has to do with a "clean zone" with a certain distance from the polling place door. No campaigning can generally take place within the polling place or the clean zone, which is usually something like 100 feet from the polling place door. As long as they are in the right-of-way outside the clean zone, I can't imagine any violation of the elections code.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:11 AM on October 25, 2012

I can't imagine any violation of the elections code.

That is as may be. But I think you're far more likely to run afoul of local advertising and vandalism ordinances. Even if it's for a PSA type thing, you can't just stick signs up anywhere you like, even on public property.

The reason you got a "meh" reaction from poll workers, especially during the primary, is that this is way above their pay grade. Poll workers are generally volunteers with little information and almost no authority. You need to get in touch with your county's election board and talk to someone who knows what the hell is going on.
posted by valkyryn at 11:29 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Telling people where to vote is not campaigning. Telling people who to vote for is campaigning.

I wouldn't worry at all about putting out signs directing people to a polling place.
posted by ShooBoo at 11:43 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you print up or buy something that looks legit, most people are going to assume it is and not do anything about it.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:32 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's worth a phone call to the board of elections, I think. Here's the relevant contact page from the website; scroll down to "Elections and Open Appointments Counter."
posted by cooker girl at 12:33 PM on October 25, 2012

Yeah, I think a sign that says, "Are you here to vote? Sorry, you're in the wrong place. This is ABC School. ABC Polling Place is 3 miles south, at 123 Maine Street. Thanks for voting!" would be a great thing, and I'd appreciate it if I were going out to vote there.

Just don't put, "Thanks for voting for Obama", though I'm sure the temptation must be great. ;)
posted by misha at 12:41 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Even if it's for a PSA type thing, you can't just stick signs up anywhere you like, even on public property.

This is true, but in practice people can and do put signs on public property all the time, at least everywhere I've lived. A sign telling people where to vote isn't going to bother anyone. As a lawyer, I might tell you that it's illegal in the same way that operating a lemonade stand might be illegal. But that probably shouldn't impact your decision to do it, honestly.
posted by smorange at 1:46 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here is the statute on conduct that is prohibited in or near a polling place and here is another statute banning political "solicitation" within 100 feet of a polling place. As Tanizaki suggested is often the case, both statutes focus on activities within 100 feet of the polling place.

Also, if you want to check with election officials, don't forget that in Minnesota a municipal clerk is often the person running the election. So, in Minneapolis it is the City Clerk's office and not someone at Hennepin County.
posted by Area Man at 2:26 PM on October 25, 2012

The directional signs leading the way to the correct building sound good, as long as they're not for one candidate or party --- and even that might be okay, but then you'll need to keep them the legally-required minimum distance from the actual polling place. As for putting something about "this isn't the place" at the school? That part I'd check with the school itself.
posted by easily confused at 6:35 PM on October 25, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everybody!
posted by werkzeuger at 7:10 AM on October 26, 2012

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