Polling locations, private property, free speech and lawsuits

Posted By on October 19, 2010

I’ve often wondered what is and isn’t permitted at local polling locations since many are private properties except for opening their doors on election day. In our suburban township we use schools, churches and building such as union halls, the later generating a lawsuit from a local community group of the Cincinnati Tea Party. pollsimageSome locations have interests or views which take a political tack and often differ from those voting in the facility. For example, while voting in local Baptist church building, I’ve wondered if being in a church influences ones thoughts on social issues … or if in a local school building, does the condition or local cause a voter to be more or less sympathetic toward requests for more funding? One thing I’ve have noticed is that that there are plenty of campaign signs as one drives in and parks, and there are often people who have set up tables. For the most park, they are accepted as free speech and as a welcomed part of our democracy … BUT what if only certain points of view are accepted on the property near a polling place?

One local polling location saw a lawsuit filed last week by the Liberty Township Tea Party. The suit was against Butler County Board of Elections and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW Local 648) because the property owners (union) restricted access to the area 100 feet from polling location “because it was private property.” 

According to the Pulse-Journal, Katherine Dirr set up her table back in May 2010, a she has done in previous elections, and was the correct 100 feet from the voting location in order to hand out pamphlets and seek petition signatures. She was asked to leave, presumably due to political positions that differed from those represented by the property owners, and shown an email from the Butler Board of Elections director Betty McGary that the property representative had permission to ask Katherine Dirr to leave or to call the Sheriff’s Office if she didn’t comply. She left at that time and now has the Tea Party backing in filing a lawsuit in order to be able to set up her tables in November.

What is interesting, is that not all campaigning on the property is denied, just that which differs from poll locations property owners (IBEW Local 648)… photo of ‘acceptable’ signage below (Strickland/Brown are Democrats for those not in Ohio). To be fair to the Board of Elections, their attorney states that “the board had nothing to do with the decision to expel Dirr from the property. The board controls only the polling place and the area 100 feet around it. Our position is it’s their property. They can do what they want.”  Maybe the Board of Education should look for a polling location a bit more open to all points of view?

This is one of a number of photos being used as evidence in a lawsuit filed by the Liberty Twp. Tea Party against the Butler County Board of Elections and Local 648 of the International Electrical Workers. – Pulse-Journal


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