Nonpartisan Voter Assistance Project Pledges to Fight Further Attempts to Silence the First Amendment
NOTE: A RULING IN THIS CASE IS EXPECTED TODAY
One day after the violent arrest of volunteer James S. Henry in Palm Beach County, the nonpartisan Election Protection coalition has filed a lawsuit requesting the Palm Beach County court grant a temporary injunction ordering defendant Supervisor of Elections and the Sheriff of Palm Beach County to refrain from prohibiting communication with voters, written, oral or expressive, including distribution of the voter's bill of rights, outside the 50 foot buffer zone.
"There is no justification for an elections official to seize authority to suspend the first amendment of the United States Constitution," said Ralph G. Neas, President of People for the American Way Foundation. "Any additional attacks on free speech around polling places, in Florida or elsewhere, will likewise face immediate legal challenge," he added.
The Palm Beach Post reported Monday that Henry, a widely published freelance journalist, was violently arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for taking pictures of waiting voters outside Theresa LePore's county elections office near West Palm Beach. The Supervisor has also imposed rules that make it difficult for nonpartisan voter education advocacy groups, such as the Election Protection coalition, to distribute literature to voters as they wait in line to vote, leading to today's lawsuit.
According to the arresting deputy, Henry was "not allowed to take pictures of voters." A sheriff's spokesman and a county attorney later reported that Elections Supervisor Theresa LePore enacted a rule prohibiting reporters from interviewing or photographing voters lined up outside the polls.
"Subverting the constitution in order to bully and arrest journalists or poll monitors whose purpose is to ensure a fair and democratic electoral process should not be tolerated," said Elliot Mincberg, General Counsel of People For the American Way Foundation.
Henry's arrest occurred at about 3:30 PM Sunday. Henry is a journalist who has written for numerous national publications and is also to serve as a volunteer for the Election Protection coalition. The nonpartisan group is deploying thousands of volunteers across Florida and the country to monitor polling places, answer voter questions and work to make sure every eligible voter can cast a vote that will be counted.
The coalition provides free information and assistance through its toll-free hotline (1-866-OUR-VOTE). Trained volunteers, lawyers and law students will be available to answer questions in English and Spanish from call centers located across the country. On Election Day, poll monitors in distinctive Election Protection T-shirts will be stationed at selected precincts to assist voters and distribute the "Voter's Bill of Rights."
The Election Protection coalition is comprised of national, state and local partners, including People For the American Way Foundation, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the NAACP, the Voter Protection Project, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Advancement Project, the ACLU and many others.
Election Protection is the nation's most far-reaching program to protect voter rights from now through Election Day and beyond. The nonpartisan voter information, advocacy and protection program is carried out by a coalition of more than 100 nonprofit organizations dedicated to ensuring that every citizen has the opportunity to cast a vote that will be counted. In this fall's elections, Election Protection will deploy 20,000 volunteers in 17 states, including 5,000 lawyers and law students. See www.electionprotection2004.org  for more information.