Gay activists and voters clash in Kentucky
February 19 2004 1:00 AM ET
Election officials in Fayette County, Ky., imposed a 500-foot buffer zone around polling places on Tuesday after confrontations between some voters and members of a gay rights group. Fayette County clerk Don Blevins said the Kentucky Fairness Alliance was canvassing voters about their attitudes toward proposed state and national constitutional amendments to prohibit same-sex marriages. Blevins said his phones "lit up like a Christmas tree" with complaints of arguments about discrimination that ensued when voters expressed sympathy for the proposed amendments. "That's not canvassing. That's campaigning, advocating a position," Blevins said in a telephone interview. He said he got calls from voters "expressing outrage at being asked questions coming and going from the polling place."
Jim Dickinson, cochairman of the alliance, said voters were being canvassed at eight polling places that serve 11 precincts. "We had a constitutional right to be there and were exercising our constitutional rights," Dickinson said in a telephone interview. "As far as I know, we never intimidated anybody. That's really counterproductive." The special sixth district congressional election was the first since a federal appeals court struck down most of Kentucky's statutes on conducting and financing campaigns. One of the stricken statutes banned "electioneering"--buttonholing voters or distributing campaign material--within 500 feet of a polling place. Blevins said the State Board of Elections, which is pursuing an appeal, advised county officials not to try to enforce a buffer zone. Blevins said he decided to impose a 500-foot limit anyway.
Dickinson said the Fairness Alliance did not consider its action to be electioneering. Voters were being told that "gays and lesbians would be discriminated against" under any of the proposed amendments, he said. "None of our workers argued with someone who was trying to vote. In fact, many of our workers got yelled at. As soon as they were yelled at, we would stop the conversation," Dickinson said.