A Kentucky law banning election-day campaigning near polling places was struck down Tuesday by a federal judge, who ruled the 300-foot buffer impedes free speech by reaching private homes and yards. The ruling by U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman came three weeks before voters head to the polls to decide a long ballot of local, state and federal races. Those races include the hard-fought U.S. Senate campaign pitting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. The ruling means that a broad range of electioneering activities would be allowed near the polls, said Christopher Wiest, one of the attorneys for the northern Kentucky man who challenged the state law. “What this means is there is now complete freedom of speech in and around polling places on Election Day,” Wiest said by phone. “People can hand out fliers, talk to voters. They can wear (campaign) T-shirts, they can hold signs. All that is now fair game.”
Grimes, who is Kentucky’s secretary of state, was reviewing the ruling, said her office’s spokeswoman, Lynn Zellen. The matter is also under review by Attorney General Jack Conway’s office, said his spokeswoman, Allison Martin. Grimes and Conway were among several state and local officials named as defendants in the lawsuit challenging the law.
The suit was brought in June 2014 by John Russell, a Campbell County businessman who had campaign signs pulled from the yard of his auto body shop on Election Day in 2012 and 2014. The signs were removed by sheriff’s deputies because they were within 300 feet of a polling place at a church in Cold Spring, Kentucky.