You’ve GOT to be kidding!

Ginger Hurley could not have picked Sarah Palin out of a sea of hockey moms when she vacationed in Alaska this June.

For 10 days, Hurley fished and kayaked. She took a “flightseeing”
excursion over Mount McKinley and a harbor cruise around the glaciers.
She even picked up a few T-shirts. She did not visit the governor’s
mansion.

But by October, the association between the state and its governor,
the Republican vice-presidential candidate, was so strong it nearly
kept Hurley out of the voting booth.

The 40-year-old Houston Realtor was wearing one of her souvenir
T-shirts when she went to cast her ballot at a Cypress polling place
Oct. 26. A poll worker told her she would have to change the shirt if
she wanted to vote.

Hurley, who votes in every election, is familiar with poll site
etiquette. She knows not to wear campaign paraphernalia. She’s never
run into trouble before.

What, she asked, was wrong with her light blue cotton T-shirt,
emblazoned with a moose head, fishing poles, and the words “Seward,
Alaska”?

The word “Alaska,” a poll worker answered.

“She said it could be misconstrued as support for a candidate,” Hurley said.

She argued with the poll worker, but neither one backed down. The
worker told Hurley she could go into the bathroom and flip her shirt
inside-out. She even offered duct tape to cover the offending word.
Hurley refused. Finally, outraged, she stormed out of the polling place.

“I couldn’t believe she wouldn’t let me vote because of my vacation
T-shirt,” Hurley said this week. “Every time I talk about it, my blood
boils.”

Cooler heads prevailed in the parking lot, and a campaign volunteer
urged Hurley to check with the precinct judge overseeing the polling
site.

The judge took a look at the shirt and let her vote. She didn’t even need duct tape.

But Hurley said she felt unnecessarily harassed by the poll worker.
Hurley did vote for the candidate from Alaska, but she said that had
nothing to do with her choice of attire.

“I felt like I was being singled out,” she said. “I don’t think they
would have given it a second look if it were a Delaware T-shirt.”

The Harris County clerk has not received any other complaints like Hurley’s, said spokesman Hector de Leon.

In an election as charged as today’s, he said, poll workers may be
oversensitive to the rigors of the state’s election code, which
prohibit campaign clothing and buttons within 100 feet of a polling
place.

“It sounds like this went beyond the letter of the law, but it
probably was in the spirit of the law,” de Leon said. “In this
election, there’s a high level of awareness of who the candidates are
and where they’re from.”

The law is meant to keep polling places neutral, to maintain order,
and to prevent voters from feeling like they’re being pressured as they
cast their ballots, he said. Most voters know the rules and dress
accordingly; those who don’t typically change or cover the clothing
without argument.

Another voted in her bra

During early voting, the clerk’s
office got a report of a woman who showed up to a polling place in west
Harris County wearing an Obama T-shirt.

She was told she could cover the shirt up, turn it inside out, or not wear it. She chose not to wear it, and voted in her bra.

De Leon could not say whether the polling places had a “no shirt, no shoes, no service” policy.

County leaders for both the major political parties agreed that
Hurley’s treatment seemed unjust. It’s the kind of thing poll watchers
will be looking out for today, said Jared Woodfill, chairman of the
Harris County Republican Party, which will have close to 1,000 members
posted at polling sites countywide.

“Next thing you know, people are going to be kicked out for wearing
Arizona shirts,” he said. “Obviously, this poll worker was not educated
in polling law.”

Poll workers undergo training by the clerk’s office, but the
training does not go into great depth regarding what should be
considered campaign clothing.

“It should be pretty obvious,” Woodfill said. “It’s not much of a gray area.”

While Hurley was ultimately able to vote without removing her shirt,
she worries that a broad interpretation of the law may have prevailed
at her polling place. Friends who voted at the same site during the
second week of early voting told her they saw a handwritten sign at the
entrance. It outlined a ban on clothing that named any of the
candidates’ home states: Illinois, Arizona, Delaware or Alaska.

jennifer.latson@chron.com

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