Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed in GA on Behalf of Man Who Was Forced to Remove NRA Hat to Vote
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ATLANTA, GA–(Marketwired – December 09, 2014) – Southeastern Legal Foundation today filed a civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court, Northern District, Atlanta based on the actions of elections officials in executing alleged “policy” by forbidding Douglas County, GA resident Bundy Cobb from wearing his National Rifle Association (NRA) Instructor hat to vote. (Bundy Cobb v. Douglas County, Georgia, et al., Case No. 1:14-mi-99999-UNA), filed December 8, 2014 (case # to be assigned per court).
According to Cobb, he was told by elections officials that “the NRA is perceived to be associated with the Republicans” and was therefore illegal “campaign” material under law. Cobb opted to remove his hat in order to vote. Cobb could have been subject to arrest, imprisonment, and a fine under Georgia electioneering laws if he had not complied.
The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the alleged policy and the actions of the poll worker in forcing Cobb to remove his hat to vote. A copy of the lawsuit is available here. See photos of the hat attached.
Cobb, a retired insurance agent and Army veteran, is an NRA-certified firearms safety instructor and runs a business teaching gun safety. He and his wife vote “in every election,” carefully researching candidates and their positions before casting a vote.
“Bundy Cobb represents thousands of Georgians and millions of Americans who meet their civic obligations and exercise their rights with the firm conviction that the government should not infringe on the constitutional rights of citizens, period, full stop,” said Shannon L. Goessling, SLF executive director and chief legal counsel representing Cobb. “The lawsuit filed today seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to redress and prevent the rights of Mr. Cobb and all registered voters in Douglas County against unconstitutional restrictions on free speech and free association under the U.S. Constitution. This should never happen again in Douglas County, in Georgia, or in any jurisdiction in the U.S.”
On Oct. 24, 2014, Cobb went to the Douglas County, Georgia Courthouse to vote during the general election early voting period. He was wearing his khaki NRA instructor hat, which he wears daily. After providing his photo identification and signing his voter paperwork, Cobb was allegedly told by Voter Registration Clerk Constance Bowen that he could not vote in the general election unless he removed his hat. He was told the hat was “considered to be campaigning.” Cobb said that was “ridiculous,” but removed his hat to be able to vote.
After Cobb left the polling place, he contacted a local news affiliate. Cobb and a news reporter returned to the polling place to speak with Douglas County elections supervisor Laurie Fulton. He asked why his hat was considered “campaigning,” and was told by Fulton that the NRA is perceived to be associated with “the Republicans.” Fulton later told reporters that the “policy” to forbid non-election related clothing is “in the abundance of caution,” because of potential perception problems with some voters. In public statements after the event, Fulton and fellow defendant Wes Tallon, communications and community relations director for the Douglas County Board of Commissioners, reiterated a per se ban on all NRA clothing at polling places; Tallon publicly stated that Cobb’s NRA Instructor hat “represented an organization that had certain well-advertised views and was active in the Georgia gubernatorial campaign.”
Goessling points out that the NRA Political Victory Fund has endorsed hundreds of candidates from both major political parties across the U.S. and has done so for many years.
“This case is not about the NRA, nor is it about whether people like the NRA,” said Goessling. “Imagine if the same election officials had forbidden a t-shirt with a labor union logo — a union that had endorsed a Democratic candidate. Imagine if they had banned a hat with a Progressive Insurance logo or George Soros-funded group, or if they had banned a hat with a Koch logo. There’s no evidence they did this — but there’s clear evidence that they singled out the NRA, and they singled out Bundy Cobb with the full force of the government. The only question now is, who’s next?”
“The chilling effect on voters is direct and immediate, ironically, during an election cycle in which the issues of ‘voter suppression’ and voter ID requirements have been political lightning rods,” Goessling added. “That’s why the nearly unfettered discretion of the election officials needs to be taken away, and the rules clarified to protect voters first.”