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Media suit objects to guidelines



Published: Wed, October 25, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Blackwell's new order contains conflicting language, a lawyer said.

COLUMBUS (AP) -- Ohio's new guidelines on conducting exit polls on Election Day, written after a judge threw out the old rules, are vague and confusing and should be rejected, a coalition of national news organizations argues in a lawsuit.

In the suit, television networks ABC, CNN, CBS, Fox News and NBC and The Associated Press ask U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson to spell out the rules for county election boards in his own words and force Secretary of State Ken Blackwell to post them so the plaintiffs can interview voters leaving polling places on Nov. 7.

The judge last month had ordered the state to produce a new directive when he struck down Blackwell's 2004 order against exit polling within 100 feet of a voting place. Watson granted a temporary order suspending the 2004 order, allowing exit polling that year.

The lawsuit filed Monday says Blackwell's latest guidelines, issued Oct. 13, begin by stating that loitering and delaying voters are prohibited and only later say that the judge specifically allowed exit polling.

"The October 13 directive deliberately flouts this court's judgment, decree and injunction and is a direct affront to this court's authority," the lawsuit says.

Attorney Richard Goehler, representing the news organizations, said Blackwell's new order contained conflicting language.

"Given the whole history of the case, how this directive issued on Oct. 13 was written essentially frustrates the entire purpose of the case from the beginning, which was to clear up the matter of whether the exit polling could take place," Goehler said.

Response

James Lee, a spokesman for the secretary of state's office, said language from Watson's ruling is contained word-for-word in the directive and, as a result, should be clear to county boards of elections.

Last week, in a challenge raised by the same organizations, a federal judge in Miami raised strong doubts about the constitutionality of a Florida law banning exit polls within 100 feet of a voting place.

U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck said on Oct. 20 that he was leaning toward ruling in favor of the news media and issuing an order in time for the Nov. 7 election in Florida. Huck said he could find no evidence that exit polling had hindered the right to vote.

A 2005 Florida law set a 100-foot limit around every polling place within which a number of activities are banned, including polling, solicitation, distribution of campaign material, selling goods or seeking contributions. The news media group argued that prohibiting exit polls violates the First Amendment's freedom of the press and free speech protections.




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