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Ruling Expected Today In Pa. Newspaper’s Poll-Observing Case

(Credit: John Ostapkovich)

(Credit: John Ostapkovich)

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By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A federal judge is expected to rule Friday on whether reporters can cover elections from inside Pennsylvania polling places.

Pennsylvania law prohibits anyone but voters and election workers to get within 10 feet of the polls. The Pittsburgh Post Gazette says that violates press freedom enshrined in the First Amendment.

The paper’s attorney Fred Frank says exceptions shouldn’t be made for polling places.

“It’s observing government and there’s long-standing case law that says the media has the right to observe government in action,” Frank said.

Frank says the paper wants to monitor the roll out of the photo ID law.

“There is a First Amendment right to observe the polling places and that it’s particularly critical to be able to observe it this year.”

Frank says the fact that it will be a soft roll-out doesn’t change the paper’s basic right. He’d worked out a consent decree with Allegheny County that would have allowed the paper to monitor the sign-in process, but the judge declined to approve it because of concerns about voter privacy. She asked the two sides to return, today, with something more limited and less formal. Frank was optimistic.

Melissa Melewsky of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association says other media are watching closely.

“This is potentially very helpful to the way the media covers the election process.”

County officials declined comment.

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