A New Hampshire legislator has sued the state, arguing that a new law banning voters from displaying their marked ballots violates the First Amendment’s guarantees on free speech. The lawsuit, filed Friday in federal court in Concord, N.H., takes aim at an unusual new law passed by the state earlier this year. The law specifically bars voters from taking pictures of their ballots and posting them on Facebook or other social media sites. The law reads:
659.35 Showing or Specially Marking Ballot. I. No voter shall allow his or her ballot to be seen by any person with the intention of letting it be known how he or she is about to vote or how he or she has voted except as provided in RSA 659:20. This prohibition shall include taking a digital image or photograph of his or her marked ballot and distributing or sharing the image via social media or by any other means.
People who willfully violate the law are subject to fines of up to $1000.
The ostensible purpose behind the law: to prevent vote-buying. The law is actually an update of a 19th century ban on showing a completed ballot to anyone with the intention of showing how the person voted. The new law makes explicit that the ban extends to social media. According to this New Hampshire Union Leader story from last month:
The law goes back to the 1880s when vote buying was rampant, according to Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan. Votes were bought with money, liquor or some other enticement, but voters had to show the marked ballot to receive the payoff. “In the 1880s, it was a real problem,” Scanlan said, noting the parties and other people produced ballots that were easily recognizable for a particular party or organization.
According to the lawsuit, filed by the ACLU of New Hampshire on behalf of the plaintiffs, the state’s interest in banning corruption doesn’t trump the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights.