The Maryland Senate today, with no discussion, approved a bill that bars exit polls by the media within 100 feet of voting places, the same distance campaign poll workers must maintain in most counties.
In Harford and Anne Arundel counties, which bar electioneering within 300 feet of the polls, media workers conducting the public opinion surveys would have to maintain that distance.
"What we're doing, really, is creating an enclave free from campaigning, electioneering or questioneering," said bill sponsor Sen. Arthur Dorman (D-Prince George's) after the vote.
Although the bill passed 33-10 today, several senators vocally opposed the measure in a preliminary vote Wednesday. They questioned the constitutionality as well as the need for the bill, saying the media representatives rarely harass voters, voters need not answer questions, and few voters complain.
"I don't know why we should pass this bill because you had a couple of grouches in your district," state Sen. Jack Cade (R-Anne Arundel) told Dorman. Dorman replied that he submitted the bill because some people did not like answering questions about their votes.
The Senate bill has fewer restrictions than a bill introduced in the House by Del. Dennis Donaldson (D-Prince George's), which would bar exit polling within 300 feet of any voting place in the state. That bill has not been acted on by a committee. Although Donaldson and Dorman said they had received only one or two complaints about media behavior, both bills follow nationwide criticism arising from early projections of final counts in the 1980 and 1984 elections.
Some candidates and political observers complain that early predictions influence voting behavior and possibly discourage voters from going to the polls.
Media representatives oppose laws restricting polling, saying they infringe on the media's right to gather information.
The three major television networks agreed this year not to use exit polls to project presidential winners in a state until that state's polls have closed. Donaldson's proposal is based on a Washington state law that bans any public opinion poll with voters within 300 feet of a public polling place.
That law has so far survived a legal challenge by the three major television networks, the New York Times and the Everett Herald, owned by The Washington Post Co. The case is pending before the federal district court in Tacoma, Wash.