Judge lets state’s ban on ballot selfies stand
NEW YORK >> Allowing ballot selfies at thousands of polling places in New York state just before a presidential election would “wreak havoc,” a judge said Thursday in rejecting a request to immediately shut down an 1890 law banning voters from showing marked election ballots to others.
U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel’s decision was consistent with a California judge’s Wednesday ruling saying it would be unfair to voters and polling place workers to lift a ban on sharing photos of marked ballots. A federal judge in Colorado has yet to rule on efforts to lift that state’s selfie ban.
Castel said in a written ruling that people who want to publicize ballot choices can do so through “other powerful means.”
“The public’s interest in orderly elections outweighs the plaintiffs’ interest in taking and posting ballot selfies,” he said.
A recent review by The Associated Press showed ballot selfies are legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia, illegal in 17 states, and the legal status is mixed or unclear in the rest.
Castel noted that early American elections plagued by voter intimidation and election fraud led to a series of reforms in the late 1800s to protect the integrity of elections.
“Indeed, the ubiquity and ease of smartphone technology plausibly increases the risk of one form of voter intimidation,” Castel said. “Without the statute, employers, unions, and religious groups could encourage their members to upload images of their marked ballots to a single location to prove their commitment to the designated candidate.”
Castel said the public interest would not be served by immediately striking down the law on First Amendment grounds, as three voters and their lawyers had requested. The court case will proceed with the development of more evidence before a final ruling is made.
The plaintiffs brought the lawsuit only 13 days before the election even though smartphone cameras have been in heavy use since 2007, the judge said.
“Here the interest of the general public in the outcome of an election is profound,” he said. Blocking the law would seriously disrupt an election process that involves 60,000 poll workers at 5,300 poll sites statewide, he added.
“Not only would a preliminary injunction wreak havoc on election-day logistics, real concerns exist about the delays and privacy intrusions that ballot selfies could cause,” the judge said.
Attorney Leo Glickman said plaintiffs are “disappointed in the decision but gratified that we have brought this issue to the public’s attention.”
He said members of the state Legislature had contacted his office about the possibility of repealing the law.
“So one way or another we think that by next year’s election people will be able to engage in this form of political speech,” Glickman said.
The state attorney general’s office declined through a spokeswoman to comment.
Stephen Kitzinger, a lawyer for New York City, said his office was “pleased that the court recognized how important this law is to assuring the integrity of the electoral system and maintaining ballot secrecy.”