Appeals court to decide whether states can ban selfies in voting booths

Appeals court to decide whether states can ban selfies in voting booths

BOSTON (UPI) — A federal appeals court will consider whether the government can bar people from taking pictures of their ballots in voting booths.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston will hear arguments Tuesday whether it is a violation of free expression or a way to prevent fraud.

New Hampshire became the first state to prohibit ballot selfies in 2014. The law makes it a crime, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, for voters to take pictures of their ballots and post them on social media. The law was blocked a year ago by a federal judge, and the state appealed. This law was amended from one in 1979 that makes it illegal for a voter to show a ballot to someone else with the intention of disclosing how the person plans to vote.

Twenty-six states ban taking photos of ballots through various laws, including prohibitions on bringing cameras into polling places, according to NBC News.

Ten states appear to allow ballot selfies or have no enforceable state law clearly forbidding it: Arizona, Delaware, Indiana, Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, and Wyoming. And the law is unclear in 14 other states: Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Three New Hampshire residents, who are challenging the law, took selfies as they voted, including writing in the name of his dog who had died a few days earlier for the U.S. Senate.

Snapchat is among the groups seeking to end the bans, writing in an April brief, “The ballot selfie captures the very essence of that process as it happens — the pulled lever, the filled-in bubble, the punched-out chad — and thus dramatizes the power that one person has to influence our government.”

New technology, namely the smartphone, is in conflict with concerns about vote buying that date to the 1800s.

Taking photos of marked ballots in the voting booth and posting them to social media “is a powerful form of political speech that conveys various constitutionally protected messages that have no relationship to vote buying or voter coercion,” said Gilles Bissonnette of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, representing the challengers.

Bissonette says there isn’t a single instance of vote buying in the state and no one has complained to New Hampshire officials about the selfies.

One year ago, enforcement of a similar ban in Indiana was blocked by a federal court. Federal District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker called the law “a blunt instrument designed to remedy a so-far undetected problem” in reference to vote buying.