FORT MYERS, Fla. — A Florida law that prohibits petition-gathering near polling places is being challenged through a federal lawsuit filed this week by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The law prohibits approaching voters within 100 feet of polling places after they cast ballots, but it was amended this year to exempt people taking exit polls after a successful legal challenge by the news media.
The ACLU is suing in U.S. District Court here on behalf of groups that want to collect petition signatures in Fort Myers during the Aug. 26 primary election. The petition is for a city charter amendment to create a citizens oversight panel for the police department.
"Petition-gatherers have the right under the First Amendment to solicit signatures from voters who are leaving polling places," said ACLU lawyer Muslima Lewis. "There is no constitutionally valid distinction between exit polling by media companies and petition-gathering by citizen groups."
The First Amendment prohibits laws that abridge freedoms of religion, speech and the press or "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
The Florida State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Citizens for Police Accountability, a political committee formed by the ACLU, filed suit against the state on Aug. 11.
Florida Department of State spokeswoman Jennifer Krell Davis said on Aug. 11 that she couldn't comment because officials with her agency, which oversees elections, had not yet seen the lawsuit.