A judge listened to testimony from witnesses on both sides in a lawsuit seeking to make it legal in the state for voters to photograph their marked ballots. Judge P. Kevin Castel did not immediately rule Tuesday on the merits of a year-old lawsuit brought by several voters who want to distribute pictures of their ballots on social media. Last year, the judge refused to shut down the 1890 law just before the presidential election, saying it would “wreak havoc” to let ballot selfies occur at thousands of polling places.
A federal court on Monday sided with a Michigan man who said a law that bans voters from taking pictures of their marked ballots and sharing them on social media was unconstitutional, temporarily halting enforcement of the ban on ballot ‘selfies.’ Joel Crookston last month argued that the Michigan law, which predates the social media age and was intended to prevent voter intimidation and slowing the voting process, violated his First Amendment right to free speech. The ruling was praised by Michigan state Representative Sam Singh, who introduced legislation earlier this year to allow voters to take pictures of their ballots. “Social media is a powerful tool and individuals who wish to proudly display their ballots, and hopefully encourage friends to vote as well, should be able to do so,” he said. A similar battle arose in Colorado on Monday when two voters filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn a state law that criminalized the showing of a completed ballot to others, arguing that the ban, which could include social media postings, was unconstitutional.
Social media and the sanctity of the voting place are colliding in Michigan, where a Portage man is asserting a constitutional right to take “ballot selfies” by challenging the state’s long-standing ban on voting station and polling place photography. Joel Crookston, 32, sued the state in Grand Rapids federal court last month, arguing his First Amendment right to free speech was unconstitutionally limited by state law and policies designed to discourage voter intimidation. “State law and orders from the Secretary of State threaten Crookston and all Michigan voters with forfeiting their votes, fines and even imprisonment for this simple, effective act of political speech,” attorney Stephen Klein wrote in a request for a preliminary injunction filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.
Ballot selfies are not a crime, according to Virginia Attorney General Mark. R. Herring. In a formal opinion last month, Herring said it’s not against the law for Virginia voters to use a cellphone inside a polling place to take photos or video of their own ballot for publication on Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook, as long as it doesn’t interfere with other voters or disrupt the election. Some states ban photography in polling places. Where it’s not outright illegal, many election organizers consider the use of cellphones to be taboo, given the private nature of voting and the need for an orderly process. But as cellphones and social media become more ubiquitous, bans on ballot photos have started to loosen. Last week, a federal appeals court ruled that a New Hampshire law prohibiting voters from posting photos of completed ballots online infringed on free speech.
Rhode Islanders with cell phone cameras would be able to prove that they’ve voted, via a selfie photo, under a proposed change in voting regulations.The proposal would modify a blanket restriction on any photo-taking or electronic recording in the voting areas of polling places, allowing voters to photograph themselves while restricting them from photographing other people, according to the Board of Elections’ legal counsel, Raymond Marcaccio. The proposed change reflects a recognition that many voters, especially younger people, want the freedom to take selfies.“It’s the way of the world for this generation,” said one board member, Stephen P. Erickson. “They grow up with excessive sharing. They’re gonna do it.” The proposal to allow selfies is among several changes entertained by the board, including a proposal that would allow bake sales in the vicinity of voting areas.