Six Organizations File Amicus Brief in U.S. Supreme Court in Case on Petitioning at the Polls

Ballot Access News:

Petitioning at the polls is an excellent technique for any group that is trying to get signatures on petitions. Virtually everyone at that location is a registered voter. The U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to hear a case involving petitioning at the polls, Citizens for Police Accountability Political Committee v Browning, 09-861.

Florida says exit pollsters may station themselves 25 feet from the entrance to polling places, but petitioners must be at least 100 feet away. The case involves whether Florida can discriminate in favor of exit pollsters, and against petitioners. Both groups only want to talk to people on their way out of voting.

Recently, six organizations filed this amicus curiae brief, asking the Court to hear the case. The organizations are: The Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project (part of the School of Journalism at the University of Florida); the Rutherford Institute; National Voter Outreach; The Initiative & Referendum Institute; Citizens in Charge Foundation; and the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information.

As noted before, the U.S. Supreme Court has asked Florida to file a response, so the Court is somewhat interested in this case. Florida’s response is due March 19. Florida’s government refused consent for the amicus brief to be filed, so the organizations are asking the U.S. Supreme Court for permission to file their brief. Florida’s refusal to grant consent is unusual; typically both sides give consent for other groups to file amici briefs.


If the US Supreme Court rules in favor of petitioning at the polls, that could help smaller parties and independent candidates in gaining ballot status. And another post at Ballot Access News details how a new campaign finance decision may also help in making such endeavors practicable:

On March 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, ruled that the Federal Election Commission’s 2006 decision, limiting the amount of money individuals may donate to a new political party that is not yet an FEC-recognized “national committee”, was erroneous. The FEC had ruled that individuals may only contribute $5,000 to new political parties that intend to run a candidate for President. Here is the 14-page opinion.

The FEC ruling was catastrophic for any new political parties that may come into existence in the future. Ross Perot founded the Reform Party in the autumn of 1995, and he spend lavishly for petition drives to get the Reform Party on the ballot. If the 2006 FEC ruling had not been reversed, that kind of activity would not have been legal in the future.

The McCain-Feingold law of 2002 limits an individual contribution to an already-established nationally-organized political party to approximately $29,000. That amount is indexed for inflation. The McCain-Feingold limit only applies to parties that are recognized as “national committees”. The FEC won’t recognize a party as a “national committee” until after it has run a presidential nominee and at least a dozen or so congressional candidates. The McCain-Feingold law doesn’t limit individual contributions to a new political party that isn’t yet a “national committee.” The FEC had classed Unity ‘08 as a “political committee”, but the opinion says a “political committee” is a group that is supporting a particular candidate for federal office. Unity ‘08 never had any nominees. Similarly, the Reform Party, when it was launched in 1995, didn’t have any nominees, and the FEC had never considered the Reform Party to be a “political committee”, fortunately for the Reform Party.

2 thoughts on “Six Organizations File Amicus Brief in U.S. Supreme Court in Case on Petitioning at the Polls

  1. Nate

    “The case involves whether Florida can discriminate in favor of exit pollsters, and against petitioners. Both groups only want to talk to people on their way out of voting.”

    That’s just not true. Petitioners want people to sign something in addition to talking. Comparing apples and oranges doesn’t help your argument.

  2. Andy

    “That’s just not true. Petitioners want people to sign something in addition to talking. Comparing apples and oranges doesn’t help your argument.”

    Ridiculous statement. Asking people to sign something doesn’t change a damn thing, it is still a 1st amendment activity.

    The excuse used to prohibit people from petitioning at polling places is that the government is preventing electioneering, but this is completely absurd. It should be blatantly obvious that the petition circulators are NOT electioneering since the petition for which they are gathering signatures is for a FUTURE election, not the election which is taking place at that moment, so therefore, they are NOT electioneering.

    Petitioners ought to be able to gather signatures right next to every polling place in the USA.

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