Here's a story that I did for the News Service of Florida:
A federal appeals court has upheld a Florida election law that creates a 100-foot no solicitation zone around polling places.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta struck down a lower court ruling that had found the zone may be unconstitutional. That ruling in August allowed a Fort Myers group to gather signatures for a city charter amendment during the 2008 primary.
A three-judge panel, however, said the 100 foot zone was needed to prevent voters from being harassed by people soliciting signatures and said it was similar to a Tennessee law upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1992.
The June 25th ruling by the appeals court says asking for a signature from a voter - even after they have voted - is no different than someone approaching a voter and asking them to vote for a particular candidate.
"As we see it, commotion tied to exit solicitation is as capable of intimidating and confusing the electorate and impeding the voting process - even deterring potential voters from coming to the polls - as other kinds of political canvassing or political action around the polls,'' the judges wrote.
No solicitation zones have had had a tumultuous history in Florida where previous rules have been subject to numerous legal challenges. State lawmakers in 2005 increased the no-solicitation zone from 50 feet to 100 feet, although the law was changed in 2008 to allow exit polling after media organizations successfully challenged that portion of the law.
Lawmakers considered changing the no solicitation law again this past spring as part of a mammoth elections bill but that legislation stalled after a massive outcry from Democrats and voting rights groups.
Jennifer Krell Davis, a spokeswoman for Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning, praised the ruling from the appeals court.
"The voter experience is very important and we want to make sure that's protected and the process of the voting is as unobstructed as possible,'' Davis said.
But Randall Marshall, legal director of the ACLU of Florida, found the ruling confusing. He said it makes no sense to allow media organizations to ask questions of voters but then ban other groups from seeking signatures from voters after they have already voted.
"It's an odd result in that it sets up two classes of individuals,'' said Marshall.
Marshall - whose group represented the Florida State Conference of the NAACP and the Citizens for Police Accountability Political Committee - said he wasn't sure if the case would be appealed because the organization was able to use a lower court injunction in order to get enough signatures to place a charter amendment on the ballot.
But cooperating attorneys James McGuire and Paul McAdoo of the Tampa firm Thomas, LoCicero & Bralow said they would ask their clients whether or not to ask the full appeals court to consider the case, or appeal it on to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"No decisions have been made,'' said McGuire.