It felt good too… mighty dang good… except for one small thing…
As we pulled into the parking lot off of Forrest Oaks Blvd., where Early Voting was taking place at the Supervisor of Elections office, I noticed an odd little thing. Now, while I do not claim I am the brightest bulb in the political light fixture I do know you are prohibited by law to campaign or to solicit voters within 100 feet of the location where voting is taking place. Nor are you allowed to display campaign signs wthin that same distance… which was why I found it strange to see a massive canopy propped up with about 6 people sitting quite comfortably in their fold out lawn chairs underneath it’s shade… and amidst a litteral garden of campaign lawn signs for “Richard (Rich) Nuggent”. A bit further in I saw a large, white truck… with a billboard sized box sign for Diane Rowden that was so big it wouldn’t fit in the cab without the tailgate being dropped down… and it still hung free of the edge. The part no one else seemed to notice is that they (and a few other representatives from other political candidate camps) were not only within that 100 feet of sacred no-man’s land… they were well within 30 feet of the front door.
Section 102.031 of the Florida Statutes is the most important provision regulating polling place activities. First, section 102.031(5) prohibits “photography . . . in the polling room.” The “polling room” means “the actual room in which ballots are cast on election day and during early voting.”
Second, section 102.031(4)(a) states that no person may “solicit” voters inside or within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place. “Solicit” means “seeking or attempting to seek any vote, fact, opinion, or contribution.”
If you are not inside or within 100 feet of the polling place, Florida law places fewer restrictions on your activities. You generally may take photographs and video and interview other voters (with permission). Despite this greater degree of freedom, you should take care not to make voters feel uncomfortable or interfere with the voting process in any way.
I took pictures of the political solicitors campground, (from well outside the 100 ft. zone even though I am only required to refrain from taking photos within the polling room itself) so this is as close as I was willing to get in order to comfortably avoid any “issues”.
Looking at the photo (again, sorry for the distance), you can clearly see the sign posted approximately 100 feet from the front (which is actually the “exit”) door where voters enter the Supervisor of Elections Office to cast their ballots. Then you see the white SUV parked in front of the DELI… (a most excellent pastrami on rhy served there, by the way.. if you are ever in the area). Beyond that is a car turning right. That is where the door is located. The object above that is the Diane Rowden Billboard-on-a-truck.
As I was taking photos and jockying for a good visual line without causing to much commotion, even from this distance, I still seemed to make a few people nervous. Even a few of the voters milling in and out of the door to the election office were looking at me, then turning to see what I might be taking a picture of. Then people from each political solicitation group began looking at the voters… then at me… then looking to the eyes of the members of the enemy camps… each silently asking the other… “Should we be concerned about this?”
As soon as I returned home I logged on to the website for the Hernando County Supervisor of Elections… Ms. Annie. D. Williams, and the cheerful voice of a woman named “Lisa” answered. I asked how she was, she asked how I was… and then I asked another question…
Me: “Lisa, I just got back from voting at the Supervisor of Elections Office on Forrest Oaks and I was just wondering if the people working over there know that there is a 100 ft. restriction on having political signs or soliciting voters?”
Lisa: “Why.. what’s going on?”
Me “Well, now I am not calling to rat out the people representing the candidates I just voted for because both camps are breaking the law.”
Lisa: “How close are they. Where are they?”
Me: “Well, I’d say well within 30 feet… but the big truck with the enormous billboard sign for Diane Rowden is parked within two car widths of the front door…”
Lisa: “Oh no, no, no, no… NO no… Thirty feet… parked…? NO no. Thank you so much for calling. I am going to call them right now and tell them they have to get rid of that. Thank you.”
Me: “Sure thing. Have a good day.”
NOW I feel good… ALL good…
My work here is done.