This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Saratoga Springs resident Tai P. Ho'o says trying to vote while wearing a hat with Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" motto led to a confrontation with poll workers and police that resulted in a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge.
Workers hassled him, he contends, because he is a Trump supporter in an area that heavily backs independent presidential hopeful Evan McMullin, and he says he's left to wonder if "Trump may be right" that the election is rigged.
But Mark Thomas, state elections director for Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, says it may be more of a cautionary tale about what types of electioneering including garb are banned within 150 feet of polling sites, and what residents need to know to avoid trouble.
Ho'o said when he walked into an early polling site at the Utah Community Credit Union last week, three poll workers told him to "take off my hat because it is electioneering."
Ho'o said matters escalated as he refused to remove the hat and still asked to vote. "They told me I wasn't registered and wasn't in their system. I said I knew I was because I had participated in the party caucuses. It was a very meticulous effort not to let me vote."
Ho'o and Thomas said a poll worker called the county clerk for directions and was advised that wearing the hat itself was not a problem because it didn't have a candidate's name on it and Ho'o should be allowed to vote.
Meanwhile, another poll worker apparently had called police.
"Police took me outside into the parking lot, and asked, 'Why are you wearing that hat?' Inside it's electioneering.' " Ho'o said the county clerk already agreed that it wasn't.
He said police then told him the credit union banned hats to help prevent robberies. "The bank was full of BYU, Utah, Jazz, Nike" hats, Ho'o said. "The poll workers never told me this. The bank never told me this. Only the police after the fact."
When he protested, he said police told him he had an attitude and "they wrote me a ticket."
Ho'o said the citation was for disorderly conduct, although they used the wrong code violation.
Ho'o added, "I don't remember ever seeing anyone ejected from a bank for wearing a simple hat. I think it's a gimmick the police used once they realized what they did was wrong."
Thomas said he was later told that Ho'o was also wearing a Trump T-shirt as he tried to vote. Ho'o said that is false and that he was wearing a suit and provided a selfie he said he took shortly after the incident that shows his garb.
After the incident, Ho'o said he went to another early-voting center in American Fork and was allowed to cast a ballot without question. "They had no trouble finding my voter registration," he said. "They treated me with courtesy, not like the people in Saratoga Springs."
He said the difference may be that U.S. Rep. Mia Love is from Saratoga Springs and has criticized Trump. "You see McMullin bumper stickers and signs everywhere there," he said, adding he believes that made him a target.
Thomas said his office was called on the matter. Like the county clerk, he does not believe wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat constitutes illegal electioneering.
"But it's a gray area," Thomas said. "Everyone knows that 'Make America Great Again' is Trump's motto, but it doesn't specifically say it is for a candidate."
He added that Ho'o "wasn't' really charged for anything election-related," but for disorderly conduct and for refusing to remove his hat as required by the credit union.
Thomas said Utah law bans any oral, printed or written attempt to persuade people to vote for or against a candidate or issue within 150 feet of a polling location.
"Usually, most violations are accidental," he said. For example, some voters wear a campaign T-shirt to the polls. "They are asked to pull it inside out, or put a jacket over it. It's usually not a problem."
Occasionally, he said, some candidates try to campaign within the 150-foot zone sometimes by parking a vehicle there covered with campaign signs but are asked to leave, and police are called if necessary. "We don't care what they do as long as they are at least 150 feet away."
Thomas added the restrictions are there "to make sure other voters don't feel intimidated, and there is not a disruption in the voting process."