Media fight exit-polling restrictions


Published: Sunday, October 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
MIAMI - A Florida law that bars exit polling near voting places violates the press' rights under the First Amendment, a lawsuit filed by The Associated Press and five television networks alleges.
The lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Miami contends that a 2005 amendment to state law that prohibits asking a voter a "fact" or "opinion" within 100 feet of a polling place is unconstitutional.
"We're asking the court to ensure they 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.
The lawsuit names Florida Secretary of State Sue Cobb and Miami-Dade County Elections Supervisor Lester Sola, as a representative of all county elections supervisors in Florida, as defendants.
Cobb spokeswoman Jenny Nash said she could not comment because she had not yet received a copy of the lawsuit. A message left after hours at Sola's office was not returned.
The AP and the five television networks - ABC, CNN, CBS, Fox News and NBC - formed a consortium to collect exit-polling data in Florida and other states.
They contend that conducting exit polls farther from voting places breaks down the statistical accuracy of their polls. Data about voter behavior becomes unreliable because voters are more likely to leave the area or blend into a crowd of nonvoters, the lawsuit states.
Exit polls were conducted within 100 feet of Florida polling places in the 2004 election without complaints from officials, the lawsuit states.
The news media had also challenged a 2004 directive by Ohio's elections chief against exit polling within 100 feet of a voting place.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson ruled the verbal order by Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell before the 2004 presidential election violated the press' rights under the First Amendment.
A federal judge ruled in 1988 that a Florida law prohibiting exit polling within 150 feet of polling places was unconstitutional. The law was subsequently amended to allow exit polling from any distance from a voting place, so long as it was clearly identified and did not obstruct voter access.

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