Pennsylvania appeals judges hear Post-Gazette's poll access lawsuit

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It would be "a tall order" to approve the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's request, made in a lawsuit, that journalists be allowed inside polling places Nov. 6, appeals court Judge Thomas Hardiman said at an oral argument on the case Wednesday.

The newspaper went before three judges of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and argued its appeal of District Judge Nora Barry Fischer's Oct. 9 decision.

Judge Fischer declined then to approve an arrangement negotiated with the Allegheny County Board of Elections allowing reporters, photographers and videographers to enter polls and cover the voter sign-in process, though not to record voting itself.

The case is about "whether a 75-year-old statute creating a 10-foot [restricted access] zone around polling places, sporadically enforced, can override the sacrosanct freedom of the press," said attorney Frederick Frank, representing the Post-Gazette.

Attorney Kemal Mericli, representing Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichelle, countered that the entire purpose of polling places "is for the secret ballot."

Allowing the Post-Gazette in, he said, would also mean letting "Marty the blogger" photograph or record polling places, potentially disrupting voters.

Mr. Mericli acknowledged that the polling place buffer zone law isn't uniformly enforced, but said the act of voting is clad in a tradition of secrecy.

The Post-Gazette has argued that journalistic access is particularly important Nov. 6, as the state does 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 has the right to record either improper denial of the right to vote or voter fraud.

There is no deadline for the judges to rule. Decisions of the 3rd Circuit bind Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and the Virgin Islands.

neigh_city - electionspa - state

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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