For more than two centuries newspapers have been reporting on elections in America. Their reporters have talked to candidates and voters, and when a process was invented to put photographs on the printed page, they presented photographs of each group.
However, that concept has run afoul of Allegheny County election officials, who have decided to enforce a seldom-enforced part of the state election code that says no one but people officially connected to the balloting may come within 10 feet of a polling place.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has filed suit in federal court seeking to overturn the law. The Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition supports the newspaper, as do we.
Pennsylvania has been the focus of a lot of media attention recently for its new Voter ID law, and some officials are a bit peevish over the attention.
This is not a suit asking that reporters and photographers join voters in a voting booth. It is not about voters being harried by over-bearing, fedora-wearing reporters, images you might have seen in some old movies, though some would like you to conjure that image.
In fact, polling places are public places, not private sanctuaries immune from First Amendment freedoms.
Ernie Schreiber, treasurer of the right-to-know coalition, put the issue in context: "A court decision in Allegheny County's favor would give election officials across Pennsylvania the legal basis to shut down access to what has long been an observable public proceeding." And, that strikes us as a sad and dangerous policy road to travel.
It's ironic that the state attorney general's office is defending the law, despite the publication of photos of former attorney general and now Gov. Tom Corbett casting a ballot in 2010 as well as the photographic record of Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald excercising his right last year.