Tuesday, September 26, 2006

News Groups Win Lawsuit Over Poll Access

COLUMBUS, Ohio - A federal judge on Tuesday struck down a 2004 directive by Ohio's elections chief against exit polling within 100 feet of a voting place.

U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson ruled that a verbal order by Secretary of State Ken Blackwell before the 2004 presidential election violated the press' rights under the First Amendment.

The lawsuit was brought by five television networks - ABC, CNN, CBS, Fox News and NBC - and The Associated Press, which had formed a consortium to collect exit-polling data in Ohio and other states.

"It's a victory for certainly all the organizations that gather information from voters on Election Day," said attorney Susan Buckley, who represented the news organizations. "It is very important that this information continues to be available not only to the public, but to scholars and historians and the like."

Watson ordered Blackwell to issue an explicit clarification by Oct. 15 so that exit polls can take place in this year's election.

Watson had issued a temporary order in 2004 that allowed the news organizations to conduct exit polls that year. His ruling Tuesday means polling can continue in the future, Buckley said.

A Blackwell spokesman declined immediate comment on the ruling.

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