Post­ing a bal­lot selfie? Bet­ter check your state laws first

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Bruce Ship­kowski

TREN­TON, N.J. >> You prob­a­bly al­ready know whether you’ll vote for Don­ald Trump or Hil­lary Clin­ton on Elec­tion Day, leav­ing one im­por­tant ques­tion to con­sider when you walk into your polling place: Is it OK to take a pic­ture of your bal­lot?

While se­crecy in the vot­ing booth has be­come a thing of the past for those ready to share their views and daily lives on so­cial me­dia, laws na­tion­wide are mixed on whether vot­ers are al­lowed to take pic­tures of them­selves in the act or of their bal­lots — “bal­lot self­ies”.

Fed­eral judges have struck down bans on self­ies in New Hamp­shire and In­di­ana, and rules have been changed in places like Cal­i­for­nia and Rhode Is­land, but in many states it’s still a vi­o­la­tion that car­ries po­ten­tial fines or jail terms.

There are laws against shar­ing any photo of your bal­lot in 18 states, while six other states bar pho­tog­ra­phy in polling places but do al­low photos of mail-in bal­lots, ac­cord­ing to a re­view by The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Crit­ics say such reg­u­la­tions have not kept up with tech­nol­ogy and are con­fus­ing for vot­ers and elec­tion work­ers. Some states that ban bal­lot self­ies or have moved to block them cite con­cerns the photos could harm the in­tegrity of the vot­ing process by en­cour­ag­ing vote-buy­ing or co­er­cion, though some ac­knowl­edge there’s no ev­i­dence to sup­port those fears.

Nikola Jor­dan, 33, of Omaha, Ne­braska, has been tak­ing such photos for about 10 years and be­lieves they are a great way not only to share her views on the is­sues, but also to stress the im­por­tance of vot­ing and be­ing civi­cally ac­tive. A Ne­braska law­maker added a pro­vi­sion to state elec­tion law this year to al­low bal­lot self­ies.

“I was do­ing this for years be­fore I learned it was tech­ni­cally il­le­gal,” Jor­dan said with a laugh. “It’s all about en­cour­ag­ing other peo­ple to get in­volved in the process, to show it can be fun and ex­cit­ing to make your voice heard (at the polls). Don’t think of vot­ing as some bor­ing thing ... It’s your chance to make a dif­fer­ence.”

The 1st Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals in Boston last month up­held a de­ci­sion that New Hamp­shire’s ban on bal­lot self­ies was un­con­sti­tu­tional, say­ing it sup­pressed a large swath of po­lit­i­cal speech and there was no ev­i­dence to sup­port the state’s con­cerns.

“It goes to the core of democ­racy,” said Gilles Bis­son­nette, le­gal di­rec­tor for the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of New Hamp­shire, which brought the suit on be­half of three peo­ple in­ves­ti­gated for vi­o­lat­ing the statute.

Among those fil­ing briefs in sup­port of bal­lot self­ies was Snapchat, which ar­gued they are the lat­est way vot­ers, es­pe­cially young adults, get in­volved in the po­lit­i­cal process and ex­press sup­port for or against a cause or a can­di­date.

“We had a fail­ure to rec­og­nize the im­por­tance of on­line po­lit­i­cal speech, es­pe­cially to the younger gen­er­a­tion,” Bis­son­nette said. “The First Amend­ment needs to be guarded rig­or­ously. These old laws can­not and should not be ap­plied to the mod­ern tech­nol­ogy.”

Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last month that re­peals a 125-year-old law bar­ring vot­ers from show­ing peo­ple their marked bal­lots. It goes into ef­fect af­ter the Novem­ber elec­tion, but leg­isla­tive anal­y­sists have found no oc­ca­sion of the ban be­ing en­forced — and it hasn’t stopped peo­ple from shar­ing photos of their 2016 bal­lots.

Colorado started mail­ing bal­lots this week in the all-mail pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, and some bal­lot self­ies started pop­ping up on so­cial me­dia. In re­sponse, Den­ver District At­tor­ney Mitch Mor­ris­sey on Thurs­day is­sued a re­minder that pub­li­ciz­ing com­pleted bal­lots is a mis­de­meanor in the state.

The ACLU crit­i­cized his state­ment as po­ten­tial voter in­tim­i­da­tion. Mor­ris­sey’s spokes­woman told re­porters he had no plans to comb so­cial me­dia look­ing for folks post­ing bal­lot self­ies, say­ing au­thor­i­ties in­ves­ti­gate only in re­sponse to a com­plaint.

Vir­ginia At­tor­ney General Mark Her­ring is­sued a for­mal opin­ion last month that noth­ing in Vir­ginia law pro­hibits vot­ers from tak­ing pic­tures of them­selves, fel­low vot­ers or their bal­lot within the polling place.

“This is a prod­uct of the times we live in,” said Demo­cratic New Jer­sey As­sem­bly­man Raj Mukherji, who has spon­sored a mea­sure to al­low bal­lot self­ies. “If vot­ers want to ex­press their pride in par­tic­i­pat­ing in our democ­racy by vot­ing or tout their po­lit­i­cal pref­er­ences on so­cial me­dia, they should be en­ti­tled to do so.”

Clarissa Liv­ing­stone, 26, of Toms River, said she doesn’t un­der­stand con­cerns raised over bal­lot self­ies. She doesn’t be­lieve peo­ple would be in­flu­enced by see­ing bal­lot photos that she or any­one else might post.

“Peo­ple are so rigid in their po­lit­i­cal be­liefs these days,” Liv­ing­stone said, “they’re not go­ing to change their votes once they see how some Jer­sey girl voted.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Bill Phillips, of Nashua, N.H., takes a selfie with his marked elec­tion bal­lot on Feb. 9.

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