Polling officials in Lake Township say no voters were turned away Tuesday for wearing "Lake" logos - and no one was forced to vote half-naked.
Initially during earlier voting hours, the precinct workers at the Lake Township Administration Building forbid anyone to vote showing apparel reading "Lake" or "L." Those voters were asked to turn their shirts inside out, or cover up the logos. One polling official reportedly offered her sweater to people so they could cover the logos as they voted.
"No one was turned away. Absolutely not," said Marilyn Baker, a poll worker at the precinct where the Lake School levy was the sole issue on the ballot.
However, at least one citizen, George Perry of Moline, declined to vote when he was told his shirt had to be taken off or turned inside out.
"The grandkids gave it to me," said Perry, who was wearing a "Lake Flyers" T-shirt. "I thought she was teasing me. I turned around and left. I was kind of disappointed that I couldn't vote. It seems like such a silly reason."
Beverly Hirzel, another poll worker, said the precinct officials were just following training from the county board of elections.
"We were following the rules we have followed for decades," she said Thursday afternoon. She adamantly denied that voters were kept from casting ballots. "Nobody said, 'you can't vote.'"
Poll workers also said no voters were asked to disrobe. In at least one case, a voter removed his Lake shirt to cast his ballot. But that voter, Lake High School Principal Lee Herman, had a T-shirt on underneath.
"He took off his shirt and voted in his undershirt," Baker said, explaining that precinct officials have been trained to ensure the polling place is a "neutral area."
Hirzel said Herman had been warned during an election last fall about the logo rule. In that case, he put a jacket over his shirt, she said.
"We were following the official election handbook," Hirzel said.
"I handled it by the book," said Donna Tajblik, who was presiding judge at the polls. She said the school levy is a "very sensitive issue in the community," which caused people to react strongly. But no one was turned away because of their apparel, Tajblik said.
"If they left, they left of their own choice," she said.
Once voters started questioning the rule Tuesday, Tajblik called the county board of elections for confirmation that they were acting correctly. She was told that no one is permitted to "campaign" in a polling location and that they were handling the situation properly. However, calls to the Ohio Secretary of State Office by Lake school officials and county board of election officials resulted in that interpretation being changed.
"From then on, we admitted everybody," regardless of their apparel, Baker said. "There were probably about 100 Lake shirts voting." The school levy passed by 150 votes.
Debbie Hazard, deputy director of the Wood County Board of Elections, said the definition of "campaigning" in a polling area is unclear.
She described how early voters in the last presidential election who cast ballots at the board office were asked to comply with the rule. For example, a voter wearing an "Obama" T-shirt was asked to remove it, turn it inside out, or cover it before voting.
"They complied and it was a non-issue," she said.
Hazard said the Lake poll workers Tuesday were simply following their training.
"The poll workers felt - and had they asked me, I would have supported them - that they had to take it off," Hazard said of the apparel with "L" logos.
But once the board started getting several calls from Lake officials, they decided to seek an official opinion from the Secretary of State.
"We have never gotten the outcry we did on Tuesday," Hazard said of the 15 or so phone calls from voters and school officials.
The secretary of state office reportedly told Hazard the issue was a "gray area," but that the "L" logos were acceptable as long as they didn't state an opinion "for" or "against" the levy.
However, the secretary of state official said that while school or community names on clothing would be permitted, candidate names would remain a violation at the polls.
Hazard stressed that she did not hear from anyone who had been denied the right to vote.
"Nobody was trying to suppress First Amendment rights," she said. "I did not speak to anyone who was turned away."
Perry said he returned to the voting precinct later in the day after hearing about the ruling change. He showed up in the same Lake shirt from his grandchildren.
"I wasn't about to take it off," Perry said.
Lake Board of Education President Tim Krugh said he was told by others that efforts were made to prevent people from voting.
"They were told they couldn't vote," he said.
Krugh expressed displeasure with the handling of the issue. Prior to the change in the interpretation from the Secretary of State, school levy supporters were handing out construction vests outside the polls to cover up shirts with Lake logos.
"I'm disappointed with the Wood County Board of Elections," he said. "We have a right to vote, and you don't turn people away for what they are wearing."
Terry Burton, director of the Wood County Board of Elections, agreed that poll workers were simply following instructions.
"If anything, they were over-zealously trying to make it a neutral zone," he said.
"I want the voters to know they have privacy to vote, and that they are not being intimidated," she said. "We're just trying to do a job for our community."
While the ruling by the Secretary of State's office was intended to make a gray area a little more black and white for voters, there are local concerns that the issue is still cloudy.
"It's certainly a nuance we haven't heard before," Burton said.
"If they're changing their rules, it will be interesting what we see in November," Baker said. "It could get colorful."