‘This is a pattern that we need to be mindful of at a moment.’
A man wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt at a polling facility in Forsyth County, Georgia on Monday was told he had to take off his shirt before casting his ballot.
Zack Arias, 47, said he was thinking of the county’s history of racism and disenfranchisement when he decided to make a social statement at the polls.
“I’m fairly liberal, living in a very red county. So I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to wear my Black Lives Matter shirt and go vote,’ ” Arias told The Washington Post on Tuesday. But when he arrived at the polls in Cummings, Ga., an election worker was not impressed with his activism and attempted to shut him down. That’s when Arias started filming their exchange.
Arias refused to back down when the poll worker told him the shirt was not allowed. An election manager had to be called to the scene to make sense of the matter. In the end, Arias was allowed to rock his BLM shirt while casting his ballot.
He filmed the exchange to confirm reports of poll workers targeting and harassing early voters who wear clothing with Black Lives Matter slogans.
“This is a pattern that we need to be mindful of at a moment that marks an unprecedented movement for racial justice — but it is a movement for justice and not political position,” Kristen Clarke, the president of the National Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told The Post.
The issue seems to stem from poll workers viewing Black Lives Matter as a political movement, connected to a candidate who appears on the November ballot. Engaging in activity that supports a particular candidate or political party is known as electioneering, which is prohibited at the polls, the report states.
“I’m against electioneering. I support the fact you can’t take pictures or video inside the election place — that’s fine,” Arias said. “What upsets me about this whole ordeal is that I was not breaking any rule or law or regulation, and yet I was still told I could not vote.”
He added, “If Black Lives Matter had been on the ballot, or if [Democratic presidential nominee Joe] Biden said, ‘“Black Lives Matter” is my new campaign slogan,’ I would have worn a different shirt that day. But voting is your time to say something.”
Karen Shields, a spokeswoman for Forsyth County, said the poll worker who stopped Arias was new this year, as is nearly 50 percent of the county’s poll workers, she said.
“There’s a lot they have to learn. This particular part of the guidelines about apparel is part of the training,” she told The Post. “This individual unfortunately didn’t remember the specifics of all of them but then called over the location manager, which was the right thing to do.”
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