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Federal judge says Michigan can’t ban “ballot selfies”

someone writing on a ballot
Michael Dorausch
Flickr, http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
Not as many people vote in gubernatorial election years compared to Presidential election years.

A federal judge says Michigan cannot enforce a ban on Election Day “ballot selfies.”

Voters who used their smart phones to take pictures of their ballots in past elections risked losing their vote, and criminal prosecution. But U.S. District Court Judge Janet Neff in Grand Rapids ruled the “ballot selfies” ban appears to violate the First Amendment, and threatens to ensnare people who are just trying two celebrate their vote, and share it on social media.

Joel Crookston filed the challenge. Four years ago, he wrote in the name of a college friend for the office of Michigan State University trustee as part of a prank, took a picture of his ballot, and posted it on Facebook. He later learned, in Michigan, that’s illegal. The penalties for taking a picture of a ballot include the risk of criminal prosecution and having the ballot confiscated without a replacement.

The ban is supposed to help guard against intimidation and vote buying.

But attorney Stephen Klein says that’s not why people take “ballot selfies.”

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” he said. “That’s a cliché. But when you post a picture of a marked ballot, a picture of your own ballot online, and show people how you voted, that is fundamentally free speech. That is why we have a First Amendment.…We’re really happy to have a big victory for a very simple act of free speech.”

Attorneys for the state asked the judge to put her decision on hold, which sets the stage for an appeal to the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals with two weeks to go until Election Day.  

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.