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Keep the 300-foot rule

February 15, 1999

Thirteen years ago, to nearly universal acclaim, West Virginia Secretary of State Ken Hechler succeeded in passing a bill to keep candidates' poll workers 300 feet away from the voting place. Now there's a move afoot to drop the limit to 100 feet. Such a move is both unwise and unneeded.

The old limit was 60 feet and stories from newspapers around the state in 1986 described the voters' relief at being able to park their cars and walk into the polls without being accosted by a variety of people hoping (against all hope) that one more appeal would sway a voter to choose their man or woman.

The fact is, as noted by editorial writers at the time that the bill was passed, is that any voter who makes up his or her decision based on some last-minute appeal - whether it be a verbal pitch or a shiny brochure - is probably casting an uninformed vote. Voters ought to come to the polls prepared to register decisions they've already made, not to be pressured by a variety of sidewalk salespeople.

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The proposed limit for the new law is 100 feet, the only rationale for which is that at certain polling places, located in the hillier regions of the state, the 300-foot rule leaves the poll workers invisible to voters.

Tough luck, we say. If the candidates want to sway voters, they need to find other ways to do it, such as appearing at public forums, including those televised by local cable TV systems, writing op-eds for the local newspapers and finally, with good old-fashioned door-to-door campaigning.

If you agree with us, and with Secretary Hechler, that the present rule is a good one, please indicate your support by writing to: Secretary of State, State of West Virginia, Building 1, Suite 157-K, 1900 Kanawha Blvd., East, Charleston, W.Va., 25305-0770. If you don't care, skip writing and get ready to run the gauntlet again.

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