Thanks for your phone conversation on the afternoon of Nov. 4 relating to my unsuccessful attempt to take pictures earlier that day at the River of Life election polling place in Wellington.
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As we discussed, you’re now aware that I was told erroneous information by Doreen Bellfy, an employee of your office who is the Elections Manager for Larimer County. County employees and volunteers at the polling place were also told the erroneous information.
Ms. Bellfy had a host of limitations that she said the Larimer County Clerk and Recorder’s office had placed on press visits to polling places, including that:
• All press visits to a polling place needed to be cleared through your office first.
• Rules and requirements for press visits to polling places are dictated by the Colorado Secretary of State’s Election Rules, specifically rule number 8, and those rules state that the press needed prior approval before taking pictures at a polling place.
• Members of the press needed “credentials” to access a polling place (although I was never told what the correct credentials were).
During my visit to the polling place, I produced two different business cards showing that I own and publish the North Forty News. I was also wearing an embroidered shirt bearing the North Forty News’ logo. In addition, I produced two cards imprinted with the word “PRESS” in giant letters. One was (mistakenly provided to the poll workers) from my previous job at The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash. and one was a 2011 press card issued to the North Forty News by the Colorado Press Association.
Ms. Bellfy stated on numerous times during my phone conversation with her that I did not have permission to take pictures and that state election rules prohibits it — unless I had prior approval.
I told her and your employees at the polling place that I’d covered elections for almost 40 years and had never experienced this type of hindrance before, especially in a public place where the nation’s most important exercise in Democracy is taking place. I then left without taking pictures, completely frustrated.
After researching state election statutes and the Secretary of State’s Election Rules, it turns out that I was completely correct and your office and your employees were completely incorrect. The Secretary of State’s Elections Rules contain no requirements or mention of press coverage of the voting process (someone voting in polling place). It does have suggested rules about press coverage of ballot counting, but those rules are completely voluntary and the press is under no obligation to follow them (because it states that).
Attempts to limit or control media access on voting day is unquestionably a violation of protections the news media is guaranteed under the First Amendment. You have nothing to hide, and your employees have nothing to hide, so there must be no hindrances whatsoever to the media’s unannounced visits to polling places.
Since your office cannot and should not issue press credentials (and I wouldn’t get one or use one of yours even if you did) you need to specify what the requirements are for correct press credentials. Should the credentials be issued by the Colorado Press Association? What if the news outlet doesn’t belong to the CPA? And what if the news outlet is simply a blog or blogger? How about just a business card that bears the publication’s name?
As a public service for the next countywide election, and to save you the trouble of having to compose one herself, I’ve composed a county clerk’s policy that can be copied and pasted into your election employee’s job directions/description:
“The office of the Larimer County Clerk and Recorder respects every citizen’s right to vote, but also respects freedoms guaranteed the news media by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Although the county clerk has asked the news media to contact her office in advance of showing up at a polling place, this request is optional and news media may show up at any polling place unannounced. Because the election process should be transparent, and the county clerk’s office has nothing to hide, please accommodate the news media’s coverage of what is the most important process of our Democracy.
If a reporter or photographer shows up at a polling place, you may ask that the person prove his or her affiliation, which may include a press credential, business card or copy of the publication or website the person represents. You can (legally) request that the news media representative respect a voter’s privacy by not videotaping or photographing close-ups of a voter’s ballot as he or she casts a vote. Again, videotaping or photographing is okay, as long as it does not reveal how a voter casts a vote.
(You may not review, view or approve or disapprove of the newsperson’s videotape or photograph. You will have to trust that the newsperson has followed your instructions.)
Keep in mind that polling places are public venues, and the news media doesn’t have to ask the voter for permission to take his or her picture.”
Editor and Publisher
North Forty News