NEWS19 October 2009

News organisations challenge NJ exit poll ban

Legal North America

US— New Jersey is the latest US state to see media firms challenge a law banning exit polls within 100 feet of voting sites.

A lawsuit challenging the restriction as a violation of freedom of expression was filed by a consortium of media firms that commission exit polls in a US District Court in Newark on Friday.

The group includes the Associated Press, CNN, Fox, NBC, CBS and ABC. They are hoping to have the case resolved so that they can conduct exit polls around the upcoming stategubernatorial vote on Tuesday 3 November.

The ban came back into force last month as a result of a failed appeal by a civil liberties group on the legality of giving out voting rights cards within the 100-foot zone. In affirming that all ‘expressive activities’ must remain banned within the zone, the states’s supreme court overturned an exemption for exit pollsters which had previously been granted by the attorney general.

However, similar rules in other states have been struck down by federal judges in all ten of the cases where they have been challenged, including Minnesota and South Dakota last year.

Joe Lenski of Edison Media Research, which carries out the exit polls for the consortium that filed the suit, told Research: “Looking at the way the First Amendment has been invoked in the ten other cases, it would seem to be clear-cut,” said Lenski. “But each case is slightly different.”

Lenski said that what distinguishes exit polling from other activities around a polling station is that “no exit poller ever approaches a voter on the way in”.

“We don’t want to talk to them before they vote, we only want to talk to them after they vote,” he said.