Monday, November 01, 2004

Journalist arrested in Palm Beach, Fla., for photographing queue of voters on street 

On Friday, outgoing Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Teresa LePore (she of the infamous 2000 butterfly ballot) issued an edict, in contravention of the First Amendment, decreeing journalists could not interview or photograph voters while they were in lines outside the polls.

Yesterday, well-known investigative journalist James B. Henry was chased, tackled, punched, handcuffed and arrested by Sheriff's Deputy Al Cinque for photographing some voters in a line of about 600 waiting on the street outside the elections headquarters. Henry was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest without violence, and jailed on $500 bond.

In addition to the early voters, the incident was witnessed by a Palm Beach Post reporter and British reporter Marcus Warren of the London Daily Telegraph.

Upon hearing of the incident, the Post reported that Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho “called restricting reporters and photographers on public sidewalks outside polling places ‘an outrage. I'm shocked. The First Amendment right to be there is absolute.

"'Outside our early voting place we had Japanese journalists, the BBC, all kinds of reporters and photographers,' added Sancho, who is based in Tallahassee. ‘It's a public place, a public sidewalk. There is no statute, no law that can take away your right to talk to someone who is willing on a public sidewalk as long as no one is obstructing or interfering.'"

According to the Post, “Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, also called Henry's arrest an outrage. ‘Where did Theresa LePore get the authority to criminalize activities protected by the First Amendment?'"

Where, indeed. In case no one has noticed, Florida officials tend to make up laws whenever they wish.

The Post noted that it “and other newspapers and television stations had previously interviewed and photographed voters in line without incident since early voting began Oct. 18. LePore did not mention any new restrictions on interviews and photographs during a meeting with news media representatives Friday.”

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