Heller won’t ease exit poll limits on news organizations
October 19, 2004
Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller insisted Tuesday that exit pollers for the nation’s major media outlets must stay 100 feet from polls to ensure “hassle-free, intimidation-free” voting sites.
Heller’s chief deputy, Renee Parker, told The Associated Press, ABC News, CBS News, CNN, NBC News and Fox News that the requirement to keep at least 100 feet from the entrance to a polling site can be applied broadly and not just to anyone who’s “electioneering” on behalf of a candidate.
Susan Buckley, the attorney for the media groups who interview voters on Election Day to learn how and why they voted, questioned the interpretation. The law is intended to block partisan activity near the polls and the media exit pollers “do not engage in any campaigning of any kind,” she said.
“I disagree,” Heller said. “I think the major networks and Fox all have political agendas.”
“I want a hassle-free, intimidation-free zone around the polling places. I don’t want some voter having to walk through a gantlet of exit pollers to get to a polling place, and deciding not to go in and vote,” he said.
Parker said letting media exit pollers get closer than 100 feet could lead to “a virtual Pandora’s Box of similar requests by partisan organizations – political parties, special interest groups, ballot advocacy groups.”
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Nevada voters will cast ballots statewide electronically for only the second time Nov. 2, and Democrats and Republicans have traded voter registration challenges, creating the expectation that the parties and other observers will closely monitor poll activities in the tightly contested battleground state.
Representatives of the AFL-CIO already have inquired if they can interview voters about whether they encounter difficulties casting ballots, Heller said.
Parker, in a letter Friday to Buckley, said, “Certainly, if polled, the citizens of America would opt for higher vote turnout rather than the right of network television and other media outlets to proclaim a victor based on exit polling.”
Buckley, in an Oct. 5 letter to Heller, wrote that the ability to conduct accurate and reliable exit polls “is greatly impeded” by the 100-foot restriction. The legislative history of the restriction confirms it wasn’t intended to apply to exit pollers, she said.
Buckley also said it’s a First Amendment violation to bar journalists within 100 feet of a polling site from questioning willing voters after they’ve voted, and that’s the view of numerous federal courts including the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Nevada’s chief election official said he strongly supports the Nevada elections law even though in 1990, when he was running for the state Assembly, his wife walked into a polling site wearing one of his campaign T-shirts and was told to leave or “take it off.”