[Update: Election Official Reponds – sort of ]
Today I went to vote in the primary election in Porterville, CA. My local precinct happens to be at a nearby church.
The voting takes place in a small social hall, not the sanctuary.
However, each time I have voted there, including today, there has been a floor-to-ceiling cross located there, dominating the view from every point in the room.
When I arrived, I politely asked to take a picture, with the dual intent of documenting the situation so I could file a complaint with the County election board, and also to illustrate a news story on this blog regarding the situation.
The volunteers there told me I could not take a picture, even if no voters were present, and even if no volunteers were in the picture.
I asked for clarification as to this rule’s source and citation and none was forthcoming.
So I called the elections board myself, and eventually a volunteer inspector arrived and was surprised both at the size of the cross and at the refusal to allow me to take pictures.
The rules cited by the elections board in the “Election Officer Digest” did address photos with voters in them, as did a brief guide for poll observers: not without consent of the voters. I was told the Digest was available online, but on returning home I have not been able to locate it on the County Election Board web site.
But it was my intent to not have voters in the picture, or even in the polling place, as it was pretty slow, so I didn’t think this applied, and neither did the inspector.
The observer guide did say that “media is allowed to film or interview voters if they consent”.
If this rule applies, and hinges on if I can “film”, I could have taken video instead of still pictures with my camera.
If it hinges on if I am “media”, I have written probably 10,000 words for several websites, some that are mine, and some that are not, regarding the local election in the last week.
Nonetheless, the inspector was willing to make a report, and sympathetic on my dual First Amendment claims: First the Establishment clause regarding the presence of the cross, and then the refusal to allow photos or filming under the proscribed rules.
In addition, the poll workers, despite instructions from the Board of Elections, refused to allow me to see the copy of “Election Officer Digest” so I could review the rules for myself. They claimed “they are not lawyers and they don’t want to make a mistake and get in trouble” as the reason why I was not allowed to see this (I believe) public document.
They also told me, counter to the very document on the table for observer rules, that I could not observe from closer than 100 feet, which was, of course outside the polling place where nothing could be seen at all.
Ultimately I was not able to get a photograph documenting the scene, I was not able to re-enter the polling place to observe, and the cross was neither moved nor covered up.
I patiently waited approximately 2 hours for all of this to develop.
more as the story unfolds…