This post is another in our series looking at state election laws that regulate activities at polling places on Election Day. These laws, which we cover from a general standpoint in the Documenting Your Vote section of our legal guide, may impact your ability to document your own voting experience through video and still photography, as well as your ability to carry out other newsgathering functions, such as interviewing other voters outside of polling places. Florida is sure to be a center of attention come November, given its swing-state status and notorious history. In this post, I'll look at how Florida's election laws affect these activities.
Section 102.031 of the Florida Statutes is the most important provision regulating polling place activities. First, section 102.031(5) prohibits "photography . . . in the polling room." The "polling room" means "the actual room in which ballots are cast on election day and during early voting." Fla. Stat. § 97.021(26). While the law does not expressly mention video, it is a good bet that a court would interpret the statute to prohibit video inside the polling room as well. In light of this statute, you should not attempt to use a camera or recording equipment inside the polling room in Florida. If lines gather inside the polling place building but outside the polling room itself, or if poll workers check in voters outside the polling room, then you may be able to use a camera in these locations, but caution is advised.
Second, section 102.031(4)(a) states that no person may "solicit" voters inside or within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place. "Solicit" means "seeking or attempting to seek any vote, fact, opinion, or contribution." Fla. Stat. § 102.031(4)(b). This provision prohibits interviewing other voters inside the polling place or outside as they enter or leave, if you are standing within 100 feet of the entrance. In addition to this, section 101.51 states that a voter may not speak with anyone when in the booth or compartment to cast his or her vote, and that the voter must leave the polling room immediately after voting.
In 2006, a federal district court ruled section 102.031(4) unconstitutional to the extent its ban on solicitation stops media organizations from engaging in exit polling within 100 feet of the entrance. See CBS Broad., Inc. v. Cobb, 470 F. Supp.2d 1365 (S.D. Fla. 2006). It is not clear how this ruling affects non-traditional media and activities other than exit polling. The Florida Department of State's Polling Place Procedures Manual states that "the media or others who are allowed to conduct exit-polling activities" are not subject to the 100-foot restriction on solicitation, but may only speak with voters after they have voted. The CMLP has been unable to determine who exactly qualifies as the "media" or how one gets to be "allowed" to conduct exit-polling activities. I suggest that you contact the Florida Division of Elections or your local board of elections for more information. As always, let us know what you find out!
Third, section 102.031(3) limits access to the polling room to poll workers, certain election officials, and voters (along with persons in the care of a voter, and persons caring for a voter). This means that members of the media, whether traditional or non-traditional, cannot enter the polling room except to vote.
If you are not inside or within 100 feet of the polling place, Florida law places fewer restrictions on your activities. You generally may take photographs and video and interview other voters (with permission). Despite this greater degree of freedom, you should take care not to make voters feel uncomfortable or interfere with the voting process in any way. Section 104.0515 makes it a crime to "intimidate . . . any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote or not to vote as that person may choose." Similarly, section 104.0615 makes it a crime to "use . . . intimidation or any tactic of coercion or intimidation to induce or compel an individual" to carry out various voting-related activities. While you may not view your newsgathering activities as intimidating, poll workers and other voters might take a different view. This probably is less of a concern outisde the 100-foot zone established in section 102.031(4), but it is something to be aware of nonetheless.
As I said in my last post, we'd love the help of our readers with our election law research. If you know of any other provisions of Florida law that might affect someone's ability to document the vote, or any cases interpreting Florida law on these issues, please let us know in the comments. And, if you've got input on election laws in other states, please leave a comment or contact us directly.