News media can conduct exit polling in Minn.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Editor's note: The Associated Press reported Aug. 6, 2010, that the lawsuit over exit polling in Minnesota had been formally dismissed after a new state statute took effect that allows exit pollsters to stand within 100 feet of a polling place.

MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has granted a request from the Associated Press and other news organizations to block a Minnesota law that would have kept exit pollsters far away from the polls on Election Day.

U.S. District Judge Michael Davis yesterday ordered that the AP and the major television news networks must be allowed to conduct exit polling as long as it doesn't interfere with voters going to and from their polling places. He ordered the secretary of state to advise all county auditors of his ruling.

The AP, ABC, CNN, CBS, Fox News and NBC had sued Minnesota over a new state law against anyone but voters and election judges from lingering within 100 feet of buildings where polling places are located. The news organizations said the law would have made it virtually impossible for them do exit poll interviews with voters, violating their First Amendment right to gather the news.

“We're extremely pleased,” said Susan Buckley, an attorney for the news organizations. “I think this is a terrific victory for the First Amendment and for the right of voters in Minnesota to express their views about this extraordinary election, should they choose to.”

The preliminary injunction applies only to exit pollsters, not other groups that might want to put people within the 100-foot zone. The news-media groups are still seeking a permanent injunction.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie issued a statement saying his office had received the judge's ruling and already contacted local election officials, directing them to comply with it. Ritchie didn't comment further.

Davis wrote that the news organizations are likely to ultimately prevail on their claim that the law is unconstitutional as far as it applies to them. He said they would suffer irreparable harm if they could not gather “accurate and valuable voter information during this historic election year.”

The state had contended the law was meant to ensure that election officials could prevent disruptions and electioneering at the polls, and to keep people away who don't belong there. Davis acknowledged that the state has a “compelling interest” in keeping order at voting places, but it isn't necessary to exclude exit pollsters to do that.

“There has been no evidence presented to the Court that exit polling in any way has a detrimental effect on the orderly and corruption-free polling place,” he wrote.

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