Postal officials should read the laws
April 16, 2003
Judging by the quotes ascribed to Howard Orona and Al DeSarro of the U.S. Postal Service, neither of them took the trouble to consult with legal counsel before making the decision to toss petition circulators working in front of the post office. The situation is considerably more nuanced than either of them seem to realize.
No one may engage in partisan, party-based politics on public property, but only because it is inappropriate for public assets to be used in a manner which would benefit such activities.
The authority to ask nonpartisan petitioners to move extends only to the extent necessary to insure that there is no interference with the operation of the postal facility.
There is one court case, and no, I don’t feel like taking the time to look it up right now, which upheld a full post office ban on petitioners in a situation where the only available location for them was directly in the middle of the only sidewalk which led to the entrance to the building.
That decision clearly can’t be applied to the situation in Aspen, where the design of the building specifically and intentionally created a public gathering space completely separate from the two entrances.
For some reason, every few years, postal service administrators decide to extend their own powers far beyond that established by the courts. They invariably back off when invited to seek more sophisticated legal advice.
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The collection of signatures for a candidate’s petition is a definite gray area in that it is possible that a designated candidate of a particular party might object to the use of the sidewalk by an independent candidate.
However, the post office cannot claim an operational basis for entirely banning such activity by nonpartisan candidates without evidence of operational problems of sufficient severity that no less restrictive solution will suffice. Considering the relatively small number of signatures necessary to run for office, it probably isn’t worth anyone’s time to try and sort out these particular questions.
In regard to the circulation of issue petitions (and yes, a recall petition is categorized as an issue), the ability to use the area in front of the post office is both essential and protected. Since nobody is in the process of circulating such a petition at the moment, this latest controversy may be long forgotten by the time of the next occurrence.
However, there is no doubt the tradition will continue.
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