Keep the media out of polling places

Today’s (Aug. 28) print Daily Local has a 5-line blerb “Advocates support newspaper lawsuit,” which, for those who know how, can be expanded by smart-phone technology into the AP article “Right-to-know group opposes Pa. poll-access limits,” which even those of us peons without QR access can read here.

I am an enthusiast of Right To Know laws and usually I agree with media lawsuits designed to open up public access and information. But not in this case.

According to the article,

…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….

These days, anyone who wants something calls it “First Amendment rights.” As you’ll recall, that’s how the Supreme Court justified letting corporations spend unlimited cash to influence the outcome of elections. Money is speech, they said, and corporations are people. How can 5/9 of those distinguished black robes be such doctrinaire naifs?

Since when are free speech and human greed or curiosity the same thing?

Once the media get in, we’ll have voter confusion, voters playing up to reporters, voters displaying election paraphernalia they are wearing, voters being photographed and videoed, voters videotaping the media on their cell phones, election officials distracted from their duties, complaints to Voter Services, a total mess.

The article goes on:

Ernie Schreiber, treasurer of the right-to-know coalition, said the “outdated and ill-conceived” law is seldom enforced.

That is certainly news to all of us who spend two days a year working or volunteering in and around polling places! I have never even heard of an unauthorized person, much less the media, entering a polling place in West Chester. I did hear of, but did not witness, one case of a candidate for office lingering too long in the polling place and chatting with election officials.

State law (25 PS sect. 3047) also provides:

…No police officer in commission, whether in uniform or in citizen’s clothes, shall be within one hundred feet of a polling place during the conduct of any primary or election, unless in the exercise of his privilege of voting, or for the purpose of serving warrants, or unless called upon to preserve the peace…. No body of troops in the Army of the United States or of this Commonwealth shall be present, either armed or unarmed, at any place of election within this Commonwealth during the time of any primary or election….

There are reasons for this. We have civil elections conducted by civil authorities. I regret my own ignorance, years ago, when a police officer in uniform was handing out fliers supporting one side in a ballot question within about 25 feet of the polling place. I asked her if that was proper and she said she was just filling in for her friends. I should have immediately asked the Judge of Elections to enforce the law. Next time!

If journalists successfully gain “free speech” access, how about police and military personnel? How about ministers, rabbis, and imams? How about the Koch Brothers?

Our voting process works fine and has built-in checks and balances: both major parties are represented in the elected election officials, and any party or candidate has the right to assign pollwatchers to observe the process inside the polling place and file complaints and challenges as they see fit.

Journalists can photograph and talk to voters approaching the polls, voters standing in line, voters who have voted, and volunteers representing parties and candidates outside the polls. That’s enough!

Tinkering with the current process would be like the impending debacle over the voter ID law: a solution in search of a problem.


About politicswestchesterview

Nathaniel regards himself as a progressive Democrat who sees a serious need to involve more Americans in the political process if we are to rise to Ben Franklin's challenge "A republic, madam, if you can keep it," after a passerby asked him what form of government the founders had chosen. This blog gives my views and background information on the local, state, and national political scenes. My career in higher education was mainly in the areas of international studies, foreign languages, and student advising, most recently at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, from which I retired in 2006. I have lived in West Chester since 1986.
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