Journalists Win Access to Ohio Polls

Even as the voters began to pour into the polls Tuesday, the Radio-Television News Directors Association was battling for, and helping to win, reporters' access to polling places in Ohio.

A federal judge Monday had upheld the ban levied by Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell on journalists interviewing voters or reporting from polling places.
RTNDA had written in support of an Akron Beacon Journal request for a temporary injunction. With RTNDA's backing, the paper appealed the decision upholding the ban and got a quick victory in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
Blackwell had argued that “[A]llowing anyone inside the mandated 100-foot protection zone aside from voters and election officials would violate Ohioans’ right to vote in privacy—and I will not allow it."
The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that journalists would likely win an appeal of that ruling and lower court decision.
Since the district court's denial of a temporary restraining order was a de facto denial of injunctive relief, i.e. there would be no case once the election was over had journalists not been allowed in, it immediately vacated the district court order and granted "reasonable access to any polling place for the purpose of newsgathering and reporting so long as the plaintiffs do not interfere with poll workers and voters as they exercise their right to vote."
The U.S. appeals court conceded that there is a compelling argument that Ohio has a public interest in ensuring orderly elections. But any government regulation on speech must be narrowly tailored. The court said that the defendants had not demonstrated how "a blanket prohibition to members of the press--whose objective far from interfering with the right to vote is rather to report the news of the day" met that narrowly tailored standard.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.