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Federal judge throws out Florida law restricting exit polls

WLUC-TV 6 | October 25, 2006

MIAMI A federal judge in Miami has thrown out a Florida law that prohibits exit polling within 100 feet of a voting place.

U-S District Judge Paul C. Huck says he found was no evidence that such surveys were disruptive or threatened access to voting. He ruled the law unconstitutional, saying it violates the First Amendment's free speech and freedom of the press protections. The ruling came on a lawsuit brought by The Associated Press and five T-V networks that want to conduct exit polls. Meanwhile, the same media coalition has filed a lawsuit in Ohio against new state guidelines on conducting exit polls. The organizations say the latest rules are vague, confusing and should be rejected.

News groups challenge Ohio's revised exit polling directive
Associated Press | October 25, 2006

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio's new guidelines on conducting exit polls on Election Day, written after a judge threw out the old rules, are vague and confusing and should be rejected, a coalition of national news organizations argues in a lawsuit.

In the suit, television networks ABC, CNN, CBS, Fox News and NBC and The Associated Press ask U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson to spell out the rules for county election boards in his own words and force Secretary of State Ken Blackwell to post them so the plaintiffs can interview voters leaving polling places on Nov. 7.

The judge last month had ordered the state to produce a new directive when he struck down Blackwell's 2004 order against exit polling within 100 feet of a voting place. Watson granted a temporary order suspending the 2004 order, allowing exit polling that year.

The lawsuit filed Monday says Blackwell's latest guidelines, issued Oct. 13, begin by stating that loitering and delaying voters are prohibited and only later say that the judge specifically allowed exit polling.

"The October 13 directive deliberately flouts this court's judgment, decree and injunction and is a direct affront to this court's authority," the lawsuit says.

Attorney Richard Goehler, representing the news organizations, said Blackwell's new order contained conflicting language.

"Given the whole history of the case, how this directive issued on Oct. 13 was written essentially frustrates the entire purpose of the case from the beginning, which was to clear up the matter of whether the exit polling could take place," Goehler said.

James Lee, a spokesman for the secretary of state's office, said language from Watson's ruling is contained word-for-word in the directive and, as a result, should be clear to county boards of elections.

A coalition of liberal civic groups sent a letter to Blackwell on Tuesday urging him to reverse the directive, saying its provisions could interfere with hundreds of election volunteers around the state.

"The directive may have a chilling effect on lawful activities outside of polling places and possibly lead to the improper arrest of ... poll monitors or exit poll workers for merely approaching electors as they come and go from the polls," said the letter, signed by People for the American Way, Common Cause of Ohio, Project Vote, and Ohio ACORN.

Last week, in a challenge raised by the same news organizations, a federal judge in Miami raised strong doubts about the constitutionality of a Florida law banning exit polls within 100 feet of a voting place.

U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck said on Oct. 20 that he was leaning toward ruling in favor of the news media and issuing an order in time for the Nov. 7 election in Florida. Huck said he could find no evidence that exit polling had hindered the right to vote.

A 2005 Florida law set a 100-foot limit around every polling place within which a number of activities are banned, including polling, solicitation, distribution of campaign material, selling goods or seeking contributions. The news media group argued that prohibiting exit polls violates the First Amendment's freedom of the press and free speech protections.

The news media group has jointly conducted exit polls for numerous elections, using the results to project winners in key races and to analyze political and social trends.

A hearing is scheduled Oct. 31 on similar law in Nevada.



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