Campaigns allowed within 100-foot limit

Friday, May 8, 2009

Questions, as raised by one of the candidates in Lewisburg's election on Tuesday, have revealed a tradition of allowing candidates to campaign on the traffic island directly in front of the south doors of the Marshall County Courthouse.
The tradition would appear to allow campaigning within a distance of 100 feet from the door of the polling place, as prescribed by state election officials, largely because if candidates were restricted to standing no closer than 100 feet from that door, they might be standing in the middle of Commerce Street.

That's according to Barbara Jones, an election official at the Courthouse poll on Tuesday.

"We've always had it there," Jones said, "because 100 feet would put it in the middle of the street."

Jones has been an election officer since 1997, she said. During those 12 years, campaigning has been allowed on the traffic island around the courthouse, and therefore closer than 100 feet. Tuesday morning, she and others measured the distance due south of the Courthouse door and found it to be at about 10 feet short of the required 100-foot separation.

Candidates and their supporters, therefore, have been allowed to campaign on the traffic island that separates Commerce Street from the inner ring of parking spaces and a traffic lane around the Courthouse. Even an orange cone placed by the election officials at the Courthouse was placed within 100 feet, thereby indicating that's the distance from the south door of the building.

State Elections Office attorney Cara Harr was consulted about the difference between a literal interpretation of the law and the practice here.

The 100-foot distance is to be measured from the door of the building, Harr said. When told that the end of a 100-foot measurement would be in the middle of Commerce Street, she indicated that candidates could campaign beyond that point on the sidewalk at the south side of Commerce Street.

There have, however, been exceptions, she said. One is if the 100-foot distance is on to private property.

"Usually it's 100 feet unless we hit private property," Harr said.

Otherwise, the campaigning would be further away from the Courthouse door if the campaigning is to be due south of the Courthouse door, she said..

"There are a few circumstances in which they could be within the 100-foot boundary," she said. "Once private property is reached, our jurisdiction ends."

Asked again about the situation here, she replied, "Perhaps no one has complained."
Technically, nobody has complained.

Leland Carden, a candidate for City Council, asked for a clarification of the situation., he and Jones said.

"I had a question," Carden said. "And I know what the rules are. I figured that within the circle was too close."

There was another issue, though.

Ronald McRady parked one of his trucks inside the traffic circle. It was up hill from the cross walk and he suggested that it might be at an appropriate distance since the measurement would be of an arc, or half circle, which would, at some point, not reach the traffic island closer to Second Avenue uphill, or First Avenue downhill

"I didn't have a conflict," Carden said. "I was just trying to clarify."

Jones held the measuring tape at the door and McRady pulled it toward the traffic island.

McRady said the orange cone placed at the crosswalk part of the traffic island was 82 feet from the front door of the Courthouse.

The 100-foot distance was also measured to the campaign sign McRady had in the bed of his pickup truck and was recognized as having about a foot of the sign within the 100-foot limit.

"It will open a can of worms that cannot be fixed," Jones said.

Carden and McRady, however, campaigned on parts of the traffic island -- uphill and downhill from the cross walk, and both appeared to be further than 100 feet because the 100-foot radius of a circle with its center at the door would not reach all of the traffic island.

That fact of geometry seemed to escape the several people involved in the situation on the square during voting hours Tuesday.

At the election office that night, Lee Bowles, campaign treasurer for Mayor-elect Barbara Woods was asked about the situation and she replied: "That's the craziest... Was the 100 feet in the road, or something?"