Media win injunction over exit poll limits
LAS VEGAS (AP) – A federal court on Tuesday ruled in favor of The Associated Press and other media groups that challenged a Nevada law restricting how close exit poll workers can get to polling stations.
Judge Philip Pro said he would grant an injunction barring the secretary of state from enforcing a 1997 law that prevents exit poll workers from coming within 100 feet of a polling station for the Nov. 7 election.
Pro said the state’s lawyers could not prove that allowing exit poll workers within that zone infringed on the rights of voters to cast ballots.
The decision was the 10th so far to side with the media consortium of the AP and five television networks, ABC, CNN, CBS, Fox News and NBC. It follows a ruling last month in Ohio by a judge who struck down a similar 100-foot barrier. A federal judge in Florida last week called a similar provision in that state unconstitutional.
The news media group has conducted joint exit polls for numerous elections, using the results to project winners in key races and to analyze political and social trends.
Susan Buckley, a New York attorney representing the news organizations, hailed the ruling.
“The state has criticized our clients and their papers for publishing projections in prior years which they claim were inaccurate,” Buckley said. “You can’t then not let us stand in a place where we can get the most accurate results.”
Buckley argued the distance limit infringes on free speech rights under the First Amendment and introduces errors into survey results because voters can leave the polls and meld into a crowd of nonvoters. She said the distance also impairs the ability of workers to interview subjects according to a scientific pattern.
Nevada exit polls had three times the national average error rate in 2000 and almost double the average in 2004, in part, due to the distance rule, she said.
Secretary of State Dean Heller, who was named as the defendant in the Oct. 10 suit, said the arguments calling for greater accuracy were “self-serving” but said he would abide by the decision.
“My concern as secretary of state is that voters aren’t harassed at polling places. That was the purpose of the 100-foot threshold,” he said. “If a judge grants an injunction, I will, of course, follow the order.”
The state’s lawyer, Joshua Hicks, argued that the statute was not actively enforced in Nevada, but Buckley said workers were made to respect the rules in most cases, even if none were prosecuted.