The newspapers have been returned to their boxes.
Larimer County Republican Clerk Angela Myers says she thought the law around electioneering material and polling places was muddy, but it really isn’t very muddy, and when lawyers for The Collegian, Colorado State University’s student newspaper, sent her a cease and desist letter yesterday, the law appeared to come better into focus for her.
The Collegian this week contained a front-page story with photo about U.S. Senator Mark Udall, who is running for reelection. Myers ordered copies of the paper removed from boxes at the student union where polling places have been set up. She said the paper was electioneering material. The law states election material can not be placed within 100 feet of a polling place.
“It goes back to the First Amendment, to freedom of press,” said Kate Winkle, editor of The Collegian. “We need to be able to report on news-worthy events, for instance a candidate coming to campus… It’s important that we have that ability and that it’s not stifled at all.”
Winkle added that, had Udall’s opponent, Republican Congressman Cory Gardner, been on campus, The Collegian would have reported his visit in a similar way that they reported Udall’s visit to campus.
Myers hasn’t entirely retreated from her controversial stance.
“Quite honestly the statute is a bit unclear and on the face of it the Secretary of State’s office doesn’t disagree with my original interpretation,” she said. “However in the immediate future, I’m going to modify my stance and allow publications that have historically been at that location… to remain at that location throughout the rest of the election.”
Myers says her initial decision to have the papers removed was based on the scale of the image of Udall on the Collegian’s front page.
“For me, it was just clearly a picture of a candidate inside my 100-foot limit,” she said. “I wouldn’t have allowed that in pretty much any circumstance.”
Myers added that if students pick up the papers within the 100-foot limit, election judges will ask them to fold down the image of Udall.
Jerry Raehal, the CEO of the Colorado Press Association, didn’t necessarily agree with that revised stance.
“Where does a newspaper’s job begin if we can’t cover politicians and put them on the front page?” He asked.
For now, Winkle said, she’s just happy the papers are home.
“I’m glad we can keep those papers in the racks,” Winkle concluded, “especially because it’s a pretty heavy pickup area.”
[Image via Romenesko]