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Kentucky Electioneering Law Struck Down 3 Weeks Before Primary Election

A federal appeals court on Tuesday struck down Kentucky’s ban on campaigning within 300 feet of a polling place.

The ruling came just three weeks before this year’s primary election for statewide races.

That means that people will now be allowed to gather, put up signs and hand out pamphlets outside of buildings that have voting stations.

Buying votes and intimidating voters is still illegal, but Leslie County Clerk James Lewis said those crimes will be harder to enforce without a buffer zone.

“Sometimes the mere presence of a person at the polling location—be it somebody that works with the person or even works for the person,” Lewis said. “It’s sometimes really a mind game with the voters.”

The electioneering ban was struck down by a U.S. District Court in October of last year. That decision was upheld by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday and the plaintiffs will have until mid-May to ask the court to reconsider.

Kentucky—especially eastern Kentucky—as a storied history of voter fraud.

In 1988, the legislature passed a 500-foot buffer around polling stations, but a court struck down the measure  in 2004.

There were 221 federal public corruption convictions in eastern Kentucky between 2004 and 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Only northern Illinois (378), Maryland (325) and eastern Louisiana (260) had a greater number of convictions.

Western Kentucky had 70 convictions over the same time period.

Leslie County is one of several counties in eastern Kentucky that has had problems with voter fraud.

In the mid-1980s, before the buffer was put in place, campaign workers would crowd around the door of polling stations handing out other cards to persuade voters, Lewis said.

“The voters don’t like to deal with that, they don’t like being accosted as they go into vote. They feel like that should be a space free of all that,” Lewis said.

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes has called on the General Assembly to pass a new electioneering law. Unless the legislature goes into a special session, any new law wouldn’t take effect until after this year’s general election.

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld 100-foot buffer zones in other states.

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