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AP, television networks file suits over exit poll laws

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NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   FLORIDA/NEVADA   ·   Newsgathering   ·   Oct. 13, 2006

NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   FLORIDA/NEVADA   ·   Newsgathering   ·   Oct. 13, 2006

AP, television networks file suits over exit poll laws

  • News organizations say Florida and Nevada laws banning people from questioning voters within 100 feet of a polling place is unconstitutional.

Oct. 13, 2006  ·   The Associated Press and five television networks filed two lawsuits against state and county officials in Florida and Nevada, claiming that exit poll laws violate First Amendment press rights.

The federal lawsuits, filed Sept. 29 in Florida and on Tuesday in Nevada, assert the state laws prohibiting anybody from asking voters questions within 100 feet of a polling place are unconstitutional, according to AP.

With less than a month before the midterm elections, the lawsuit also asks for an injunction preventing enforcement of the laws in November.

“We’re asking the court to ensure [the news organizations] can talk to voters in Florida on Election Day within a reasonable distance from polling places,” said Susan Buckley, the attorney representing the news organizations, according to AP.

The AP, along with ABC, CNN, CBS, Fox News, and NBC, have collaborated to collect polling data, but the distance between the polling place and pollster affects statistical accuracy, according to the plaintiffs. Voters are more likely to leave the area or blend into a crowd of nonvoters when distance increases, thus causing unreliable data, the lawsuit states.

In late September, Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller’s office responded to inquires by the news organizations saying violations of the law would be a misdemeanor.

Heller said, “The last thing I want is someone walking through a gantlet of people immediately after they have pushed the voting button.”

Nevada election laws state it is illegal “for any person to solicit a vote or to speak to a voter on the subject of marking his ballot” within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling site.

Exit pollsters queried voters within 100 feet of polling places in 2004 without complaints from election officials, according to the lawsuit.

The news organizations challenged a similar 2004 directive in Ohio against exit polling within 100 feet of a voting place. A federal judge ruled in favor of the news organizations last month.

(CBS Broadcasting v. Cobb; American Broadcasting Companies Inc. v. Heller; Media Counsel: Susan Buckley, New York)KO

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