Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said he wants the news media allowed into polling places on Election Day and was "totally blindsided" by a lawsuit the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette filed in federal court on the matter.
Mr. Fitzgerald opposes the state's new voter identification requirements and said he reached an agreement with the newspaper to not oppose its legal efforts to open up polling places to cameras Nov. 6. So he was shocked when the Post-Gazette sought that access by suing the state and county in federal court July 11.
"If there is any type of voter ID challenge on election day -- and we anticipate there will be many throughout our county and probably throughout the country -- we think the disinfection of sunlight being there is going to be healthy for democracy," he said at a Tuesday news conference on the suit.
"So we agree with the Post-Gazette and have agreed with them all along. So it was very surprising to us, when we were telling them that we support their position, and we're going to go to court to support their position, that their lawyer -- who should have known better -- decided to file suit against a position that we don't hold."
State, county and newspaper attorneys argued the suit Friday before U.S. District Judge Nora Fischer. Government lawyers said voting procedures should be kept fully private, while Post-Gazette attorney Frederick N. Frank argued the newspaper had a First Amendment right to document polling activity, especially during the implementation of the state's new voter ID law.
Mr. Frank issued a statement Tuesday saying he disagreed with Mr. Fitzgerald's claims that the newspaper reneged on a deal.
"To the contrary, we attempted to resolve this matter through a consent order in state court. The county said that they would not consent to the order although they stated that they would not oppose it if the court entered it. This left open the likelihood that the state court would deny relief in reliance upon what we believe to be an unconstitutional statute. All of this is set forth in the lawsuit in federal court," he said.
Judge Fischer set a briefing schedule in the case through Sept. 20 and is expected to issue a ruling soon thereafter on state and county moves to dismiss the suit. If she does not dismiss it, she could then decide whether to grant a preliminary injunction allowing reporters and photographers into polling places Nov. 6, while the case proceeds.
Tim McNulty: email@example.com or 412-263-1581. Follow the Early Returns blog at earlyreturns.sites.post-gazette.com or on Twitter at @EarlyReturns.