Judge gives Post-Gazette more time to reach deal on poll access
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A federal judge today gave the Post-Gazette and the Allegheny County Board of Elections a week to come up with alternatives to a consent order that they had hoped would resolve a dispute over media access to the polls on Nov. 6 and beyond.
U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer said at a motion hearing that she was reluctant to sign a proposed order that would allow media into polling places to record voters signing in to cast their ballots. A state law, which the Post-Gazette contends is unconstitutional as enforced, bars anyone but voters and poll workers from coming within 10 feet of polling places.
The newspaper and the county board worked out an agreement under which media members could enter polls, and photograph or video record the sign-in and identification process, except if voters objected. They would not be allowed capture images of people casting ballots, or to get in the way of the voting process.
But Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele, who is a defendant along with the county board, objects to the settlement. That concerned the judge.
"The court's inclination here is to dismiss this lawsuit," Judge Fischer said. Although courts favor settlements, parties in a lawsuit "cannot agree to disregard valid state laws," she added.
If the Post-Gazette and the county can, by Friday, come up with an alternative procedure -- perhaps a settlement of limited duration that need not be enshrined in a consent order -- she would consider it, she said.
The newspaper has sued claiming that barring media from the polls, especially during the first election governed by the voter identification law, violates the First Amendment right to gather news.
First Published October 1, 2012 3:20 pm