A Texas woman was denied the right to vote on Monday because she was wearing a button bearing a Gadsden flag — the rattlesnake over the words “Don’t Tread on Me” that has become the unofficial image of the Tea Party.
Katrina Pierson, who sits on the steering committee of the Dallas Tea Party and is also involved with the Garland Tea Party, told The Daily Caller that “around 11 o’clock yesterday,” a Garland Tea Party member, reported that she was told by an election official that she could not vote unless she removed her button. A second election official, Pierson said, did not recognize the button and did not understand why the other official was not permitting the woman to vote.
According to Pierson, the woman refused to remove her button, saying it was a violation of her first amendment rights, and called the sheriff’s office. The sheriff passed the matter on to the Dallas County Election Department, which failed to act.
The woman opted not to vote until she had done more research and figured out whether or not the election official was allowed to do that. The Garland Tea Party is currently conducting that investigation on her behalf.
“If we have to file suit against the county, we will,” says Pierson.
Pierson said that she had heard of a similar incident in Waco, Texas, where a voter was not permitted to vote while wearing a Waco Tea Party T-shirt.
Election officials, apparently, were concerned that sporting such symbols constituted electioneering, which the Texas election code specifically prohibits within “within one hundred feet” of the polls.
But Pierson says, “It’s not electioneering, it’s not a candidate, it’s not a party affiliation.”
The Dallas Tea Party does not consider itself a political party. The code of conduct listed on its website defines the group as such: “The Dallas Tea Party is, and will continue to be, an expressly non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to citizen education, empowerment and engagement.” The code says the group will not “issue … endorsements of candidates” nor will it campaign for any candidate in any way. This is a significant difference from Tea Party groups such as the Tea Party Express, which endorses and campaigns for candidates.
The Dallas Tea Party has sent an e-mail to various Tea Party groups around the state notifying them of what happened, and is calling for people to not back down:
“We encourage you to wear a Gadsden Flag T-shirt or ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ button when you go to cast your vote,” the e-mail says. “If you are denied your right to vote because of your open public support of the tea party movement, we encourage you to DOCUMENT EVERYTHING.”
Asked why, as this seems counterproductive if members will not be permitted to vote, Pierson explained:
“They’re Tea Party members, and we stand for constitutional rights, and the first amendment being a very important one. If being an American citizen disqualifies you from voting, then we have a bigger problem than we thought.”