Right-to-know group opposes Pennsylvania poll-access limits
Share with others:
HARRISBURG -- Right-to-know advocates Monday endorsed the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's federal lawsuit seeking to overturn a law that it says violates the right of reporters and photographers to cover Election Day activity at Pennsylvania polling places.
The Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition, which includes The Associated Press, urged newspapers to editorialize in support of the Post-Gazette in its suit against the top elections officials in Allegheny County and the state government.
The Post-Gazette sued last month in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh over a provision in the state Election Code that says no one but people officially connected to the balloting may come within 10 feet of a polling place.
It seeks to have the law declared unconstitutional and requests a court order barring officials from interfering with its reporters' and photographers' First Amendment right to gather news.
Ernie Schreiber, treasurer of the right-to-know coalition, said the "outdated and ill-conceived" law is seldom enforced.
"A court decision in Allegheny County's favor would give election officials across Pennsylvania the legal basis to shut down access to what has long been an observable public proceeding," Mr. Schreiber said.
The newspaper's filing of the federal lawsuit last month came shortly after the Post-Gazette asked a county judge to allow it to photograph or videotape voters as they sign in at polling places unless they object.
Frederick Frank, an attorney for the newspaper, said it withdrew the county action and elected to press the federal lawsuit instead because it wanted a ruling on the law's constitutionality.
In the federal complaint, the newspaper says public interest in this year's election is heightened by the presidential election and the heated debate over Pennsylvania's new voter ID law.
It also cited news photos of ballots being cast by Gov. Tom Corbett in 2010 and county Executive Rich Fitzgerald in 2011 as examples of uneven enforcement of the law in Allegheny County.
Both defendants -- county elections manager Mark Wolosik and Secretary of State Carol Aichele -- have filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit.
County officials say they were simply doing their jobs.
"The Pennsylvania Election Code defines who can be in the polling place," Solicitor Andy Szefi said Monday. "Allegheny County does not have the discretion to disregard a state law."
The state attorney general's lawyers defended the constitutionality of the law and said Ms. Aichele, who oversees election laws that are locally enforced, should not have been named in the suit.
First Published August 28, 2012 12:00 am