Post-Gazette argues for the right to photograph polling places

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The Post-Gazette today argued its appeal of a judge's decision keeping reporters from entering polling places.

The case is about "whether a 75-year-old statute creating a 10-foot zone around polling places, sporadically enforced, can override the sacrosanct freedom of the press," attorney Frederick Frank, representing the newspaper, told three judges of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Mr. Frank said that U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer made a mistake when she refused to approve an agreement between the newspaper and the Allegheny County Board of Elections allowing reporters, photographers and videographers to enter polls and cover the sign-in process, though not to record voting itself.

"If we rule your way, we're making every single polling place in the 3rd Circuit subject to photography and videography," said Judge Thomas Hardiman. "Some people are camera shy. ... It's a tall order."

Attorney Kemal Mericli, representing Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichelle, said that media had no special right to go where other citizens can't, and state law bars anyone except for voters, elections officials and approved poll watchers from entering polling places.

"For the last 75 years, [polls] have been, at least theoretically -- I don't know what [elections judge] Ma Barker is doing in East Jabib -- places of restricted access," Mr. Mericli said. Allowing the Post-Gazette in, he said, would also mean letting "Marty the blogger" photograph or record polling places, potentially forcing elections judges to referee behavior and disrupting voters.

The Post-Gazette has argued that journalistic access is particularly important this year, with the state having a dry run of voter identification requirements. Mr. Frank said that even though state courts have ruled that people without identification cannot be prevented from voting Nov. 6, the newspaper still wants to record either improper denial of the right to vote, or voter fraud.

There is no deadline for the judges to rule. breaking - electionspa - electionsmunicipal

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542. First Published October 24, 2012 12:00 AM


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