Board to allow cameras at polls

Baltimore County issues guidelines after being told to rethink its ban

October 22, 2002|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

In the face of opposition from the state, Baltimore County's Board of Elections has reversed its ban on cameras at polling places and issued guidelines for candidates and news organizations that are designed to prevent disturbances.

The ban came in the wake of an incident during the Sept. 10 primary when an election judge tried to stop Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Kennedy Townsend from voting at a Towson polling place because he feared her entourage and the camera crews following her were infringing on the privacy of other voters.

The State Board of Elections said an outright ban would violate state regulations, but the guidelines issued yesterday were "much better," said Donna J. Duncan, director of the board's Election Management Division.

The new guidelines allow cameras in polling places, if candidates inform the county 24 hours ahead of time of where they will be voting and an hour in advance of their arrival.

The guidelines also prohibit candidates from bringing more than one aide into a polling place and bar that aide from wearing buttons, stickers or other paraphernalia endorsing a candidate or position.

The guidelines prohibit members of the news media from interviewing anyone inside a polling place or from taking pictures of people while they vote.

Townsend spokesman Peter Hamm said the campaign would be happy to comply with the spirit of the restrictions as a matter of courtesy, but might have a problem with some of them as legal requirements.

Requiring a candidate to call the elections board ahead of time places a burden on the candidate that other voters do not have, Hamm said. Furthermore, candidates don't control whether the news media show up at polling places, so placing the burden for notification on them might be inappropriate.

"I've never heard of anything this extensive, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is a voter who has specific rights. As a candidate, it does not mean she has diminished rights," Hamm said. "That said, we will endeavor to follow the spirit of what the county is suggesting here, but we reserve the right to disagree on specifics."

Jacqueline McDaniel, Baltimore County's election director, said the restrictions are aimed at high-profile candidates who are likely to bring an entourage or generate news media attention. They are not meant to be overly restrictive, but to protect the rights of others, she said.

"We're only asking that the candidates and the campaigns and the media be a little bit respectful of the other people who are going to be there," McDaniel said.

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