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Third Circuit rules media has no right to report from polling places

The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Wednesday that members of the media do not have the right to report from, or take photos or video within, Pennsylvania polling places. While PG Publishing Company (PG) [corporate website], the appellant in the case, argued that a portion of the Pennsylvania Election Code [text] that limits access to polling places "infringes on the media's First Amendment [text; Cornell LII backgrounder] right to gather news," the circuit court disagreed, reasoning that the US Constitution [text] does not provide rights to the press broader than those covering the population at large. Said the court:

Appellants are ... correct in arguing that the First Amendment encompasses a right of access for newsgathering purposes. However, we decline to hold ... that the press is entitled to any greater protection under this right than is the general public. The Supreme Court's pronouncement on this issue is unequivocal. ... Thus, while the First Amendment does protect Appellant's right of access to gather news, that right does not extend to all information.
The three-judge panel further opined that although the process of American voting began as a "public affair," history shows a "long-standing trend away from openness, toward a closed electoral process." The court also recognized the possibility that the presence of reporters inside polling places "could concern, intimidate or even turn away potential voters." While the law does not allow anyone except election officials, registered poll watchers and voters within 10 feet of polling places, PG also unsuccessfully argued that this rule is "unevenly enforced," and plans to appeal to the US Supreme Court [official website].

In 2008 the US District Court for the District of Minnesota [official website] granted a request [AP report] by news organizations to block a state law that would have kept exit pollsters at least 100 feet away from polling places on Election Day. Brought by several AP members, the suit alleged [JURIST report] that the law, titled "Lingering near polling place," violated their First Amendment rights to report and gather news. Similarly, in 2006, the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida struck down [JURIST report] a state law prohibiting exit polling within 100 feet of a voting place on grounds that it violated free speech and freedom of the press. Members of the AP were also responsible for filing that lawsuit.

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