2009-11-19 / News

Election flyer still under investigation

Jamestown Police Chief Thomas Tighe said Wednesday morning that island officials are still investigating the anonymous campaign letter that was mailed to island homes the weekend before the Nov. 3 town election.

Chief Tighe said Officer Derek Carlino was assigned to the case. Officer Carlino has interviewed several people, Tighe reported.

Chief Tighe declined further comment on the case because of the ongoing investigation.

There has been some debate around town about the validity of the state election law requiring people to sign all election advertising, posters and flyers.

“There’s a law on the books,” Chief Tighe said in response to a question concerning the ruling. “Based upon valid complaints received, we are investigating.”

Two candidates who were the target of the flyer and were defeated in the Nov. 3 election filed the complaints with the Jamestown police.

In an e-mail to the Jamestown Press, Steven Brown of the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote, “Rhode Island General Laws 17-23-2, which was enacted more than 80 years ago, generally bans anonymous political campaign literature. However, in 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a very similar Ohio law as violating the First Amendment.”

“It has been our position that, as a result of that ruling, Rhode Island’s statute is also unconstitutional, though it remains on the books,” Brown said.

Following is an excerpt of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling from McIntyre vs. Ohio Elections Commission:

“Under our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation – and their ideas from suppression – at the hand of an intolerant society. The right to remain anonymous may be abused when it shields fraudulent conduct. But political speech by its nature will sometimes have unpalatable consequences, and, in general, our society accords greater weight to the value of free speech than to the dangers of its misuse. Ohio has not shown that its interest in preventing the misuse of anonymous election-related speech justifies a prohibition of all uses of that speech. The State may, and does, punish fraud directly. But it cannot seek to punish fraud indirectly by indiscriminately outlawing a category of speech, based on its content, with no necessary relationship to the danger sought to be prevented.”

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