Minnesota Election Law, Meet First Amendment

September 30, 2008

Big Media filed a big federal lawsuit against the State of Minnesota yesterday challenging a Minnesota law that prohibits anyone other than voters and election officials from being within 100 feet of a building where voting is taking place.  The law was changed in April so that the 100-foot buffer zone is to be measured from the building’s door, not from the room where the balloting is actually taking place.

The change, according to ABC News, the Associated Presss, CNN, CBS, FOX, and NBC, violates the First Amendment because it prevents Big Media from exercising its constitutional right to perform exit polls by asking Minnesotans who they just voted for and then reporting the results before the votes are actually counted.

Hmm.  This is a tough one for me.  I agree that anyone, Big Media included, should generally have the right to ask questions and then tell someone the answers.  I also agree that elections are a Big Deal, particularly THIS YEAR, and that any act that might dissuade any voter from casting any ballot is to be forbidden.

The State of Minnesota has not had opportunity to file a response, but when it does, I wonder whether the Attorney General’s Office will dig up recollections of 2000, when famously inaccurate exit polls led some in the media to call the State of Florida for Gore, then for Bush, then for “too close to call.”

As luck would have it, I was on the Big Media front lines that night, squirming through my shift as front-page news editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press.  The AP had called the presidential race for Bush, and we had a page ready to go with “BUSH WINS” streamed across the top.  Then, at the last second, around 1:15 in the morning as I recall, the AP sent a bulletin stating that the exit polls had been wrong, and that the race was too close to call. 

So I changed our headline on the fly and averted disaster.  The Star Tribune, though, did not, and alas, a few thousand papers escaped the building with “BUSH WINS” across the top.  One of them landed on my doorstep!

I do not pretend to have the right answer to this one.  Thankfully, a federal judge will, and soon.


One Response to “Minnesota Election Law, Meet First Amendment”

  1. […] Judge Michael Davis has issued his decision in the “Election Law, Meet First Amendment” case I blogged about a few weeks ago, and it was a complete win for Big […]

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