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Saturday, July 20, 2024 | Back issues
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New Jersey Press Can’t Get Closer to Poll Sites

(CN) - A federal judge refused to let the press slide under a New Jersey election law that prohibits expressive activity within 100 feet of a polling place.

In October 2012, the New Jersey Press Association, including The Star Ledger, the Asbury Park Press and seven other newspapers, sought an injunction against a law prohibiting any expressive activity within 100 feet of Garden State poling sites.

For many years, the attorney general of New Jersey permitted news media to conduct exit polling with the 100-foot zone, but in 2009 the Supreme Court of New Jersey construed the election laws to prohibit all expressive activity, including news interviews.

In court, the newspapers claimed the 100-foot barrier violates their right to free speech and would "severely" restrict their efforts to gather and report truthful and significant information on election days.

They argued that news organizations have conducted exit polling in New Jersey for many years without any complaints from election officials, and the 100-foot barrier will make it difficult for reporters to approach voters.

In an unpublished opinion last week, U.S. District Judge Joel Pisano denied the request for a preliminary injunction. "A history of voter intimidation and obstruction in New Jersey is what led the Legislature to enact the Election Laws in the first instance," he wrote.

"Although there is no evidence that these plaintiffs have disrupted the voting process in the past, '[t]he cost of a disturbed election is too high to allow the state only to react to disturbances, but not to prevent disturbances,'" Pisano added. "Therefore, the court concludes that the state's long history of election regulation and the practical need to prevent disturbances at the polls all prove that the election laws are necessary to protect the state's interest in ensuring the right to vote."

Pisano also found the news organizations are unlikely to suffer irreparable harm as they can still operate freely 101 feet from a polling place, and have done so since 2007.

"On the presidential election day, some five million people are expected to vote at more than 3,400 polling places in operation in New Jersey," the 15-page ruling states. "Even if some of those voters leave the polling place or become unavailable before they reach the 100-foot barrier, thousands - if not millions - of others will not. Plaintiffs surely can find sufficient numbers of such voters that are willing to be interviewed and/or photographed."

"The court also notes that these restrictions have been in effect since 2007, yet plaintiffs have proffered absolutely no evidence that they were hindered in their efforts to gather the information they needed in either the 2008 or 2010 national elections," Pisano added.

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