HEMPSTEAD, Texas -- Chris Driskill is a staunch supporter of the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But this week he found out that his pro-gun support cannot be proudly proclaimed on his clothing if he wants to cast a ballot at the Waller County Courthouse or any other Texas voting location.
Driskill, employed as a private security guard in Houston, went to the Waller County Courthouse in Hempstead on Tuesday to cast his early-voting ballot in the Republican Primary. He was wearing a black T-shirt with a logo on the front and back that says “2nd Amendment – America’s Original Homeland Security.” The words circle a skull and crossbones where the “bones” are short-barrel pistol grip shotguns.
"I heard a gentleman's voice over my shoulder say ‘he can't vote with that shirt on. You'll have to either turn it inside out our you'll have to leave,’” Driskill said of the polling place encounter.
Driskill says he thought maybe the polling place staff was either anti-gun, liberal, or over-reacting.
"I didn't quite understand it at first,” he said. "I was thinking they just didn't like something about the 2nd Amendment."
But Driskill was not being stopped by supposed liberal, anti-gun election workers. He was being stopped by workers enforcing Texas Election Code section 85.036. The rule states that “during the time an early voting polling place is open for the conduct of early voting, a person may not electioneer for or against any candidate, measure, or political party in or within 100 feet of an outside door through which a voter may enter the building or structure in which the early voting polling place is located.”
The offense is considered a Class C misdemeanor. Election signs surround voting locations, but they are always kept at least that 100 foot distance from the door voters enter.
The Republican Primary ballot includes a proposition asking for a yes or no vote on expanded support for the 2nd Amendment and the places where a concealed weapon can be legally carried. Under the Texas Election Code rule the proposition is a “measure” and Driskill’s pro-2nd Amendment shirt considered “electioneering” or campaigning for his point of view and is treated the same as those yard signs kept 100 feet from the voting entrance at the courthouse.
In 2010, KHOU 11 News covered the same election code enforcement complaints from an outraged Democrat voter in Houston.
"No, that's not gonna roll with me,” said Tamika Francis when she was turned away from a voting location because she was wearing a T-shirt with pictures of President Obama and the first family.
"He is not a candidate in the Texas election so why are you denying me the right to vote,” she argued.
Election officials explained that, as the de-facto head of the Democratic Party, President Obama’s image or likeness constituted “electioneering” as well. Francis either had to cover the shirt, turn it inside out, or change into a different non-political shirt if she wished to enter the polling place to cast her ballot.
"I guess I can kind of see where their reaction came from,” said Driskill of his similar experience this week with election workers at the Waller County Courthouse. A local Republican candidate outside the courthouse offered Driskill his suit coat to cover the pro-gun logo. Driskill accepted the offer and was able to cast his ballot that same morning.
And he says he learned a valuable lesson: be educated and passionate about the issues but leave the campaign slogans at home.
"If you have to turn around and go change shirts, you know, so be it,” he said. “But get out and vote.”