Voters deserve their hassle-free zone
October 21, 2004
As journalists, we take umbrage at any attempt to restrict our First Amendment rights and freedom to report without interference from government restrictions.
With that said, though, we have a hard time getting worked up over Secretary of State Dean Heller’s enforcement of a 100-foot “hassle-free” zone around polling places.
We think the law and court opinions tend to be on the side of journalists in this case, barring people from “electioneering” near the entrances of polls. After all, journalists are supposed to be impartial.
Heller wasn’t so sure, and said so. “I think the major networks and Fox all have political agendas.”
Without getting into that argument, we do know many such organizations have news agendas. In other words, they want to “call” the elections as early as possible – which sometimes means before the polls close on the West Coast.
And if they have to badger people leaving the polls to find out how they voted, then those news organizations are going to do it.
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So the secretary of state has at least a couple of legitimate reasons for keeping journalists out of the hassle-free zone.
— Prevent people from being discouraged from voting by the presence of a gantlet of questioners outside the polling place.
— Set one standard that applies to everyone, whether they be Republicans, Democrats, unions, doctors, lawyers or pollsters.
We’re journalists, but we’re also voters. We wouldn’t look forward to someone quizzing us about our ballots any more than most people. We’re also the kind of journalists who don’t think the media deserve “special” access not available to the general public.
One hundred feet outside an election poll is not the place to draw a line in the sand for the First Amendment. We’ll be OK standing 101 feet away and working a little harder.