Reporters Committee reminds journalists of legal assistance hotline ahead of midterms

October 31, 2018

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reminds journalists ahead of the 2018 midterm elections that our Legal Defense Hotline is available on Election Day until polls close. The hotline will be staffed by Reporters Committee lawyers in Washington, D.C., and attorneys in New York, California, Georgia, Montana, Texas, and Florida will also be on call.  

Contact the Reporters Committee Legal Defense Hotline at 1-800-336-4243 or hotline@rcfp.org if you have questions about reporting on the midterms or run into issues on Election Day.

Before you cover the election, read through our Election Legal Guide — available in both English and Spanish — for an overview of challenges reporters might face.

The guide includes information about:

  • Exit polling
    While specific laws vary from state to state, a number of courts have held that exit polling is allowed but is subject to some “reasonable restrictions.” Such regulations must still allow reporters to speak with voters. A common restriction states place on exit polling is a buffer zone where journalists can only talk to voters a certain distance from the polls. 

  • Newsgathering at polling places
    Courts have a mixed record on allowing reporting in or near polling places. Some, such as the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, have held that there is no First Amendment right of access to polling places for newsgathering purposes. Others, like the Sixth Circuit, have ruled that news organizations must be permitted “to have reasonable access to any polling place for the purpose of news-gathering and reporting so long as [they] do not interfere with poll workers and voters as voters exercise their right to vote.” Check your state’s law before covering the election.

  • Ballot selfies
    In general, ballot selfies are considered a form of political speech. Even so, there is a fear that these photographs may incite voter coercion, fraud and vote buying. This has resulted in 18 states banning the practice, according to a 2016 study by The Associated Press, with other states having mixed or unclear laws. Some states allow cameras and photography inside polling places if it’s not disruptive or used for electioneering while other states do not. As always, be sure to check. Using ballot selfies for publication should be allowed if such material is obtained legally.

See the complete election guide — in English or Spanish — for more information about these issues.