Judge blocks ban on 'ballot selfies' on Nov. 8

By Ed White
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) - A judge cleared the way Monday for Michigan voters to take photos of their completed ballot in the Nov. 8 election, calling the state's ban a free-speech violation in the era of cellphone cameras and instant social media posts.

U.S. District Judge Janet Neff in Grand Rapids signed an injunction to block enforcement of the photo prohibition. In response, lawyers for Secretary of State Ruth Johnson predicted "chaos" at polling places and asked the judge to consider freezing her order by Tuesday while they pursue an appeal in a higher court.

Michigan's ban on exposing completed ballots has been in place since 1891 when ballots were first printed by county election officials instead of political parties.

Joel Crookston of Portage, who took a "ballot selfie" in 2012 while voting for a write-in candidate for Michigan State University trustee, filed a lawsuit after learning that a picture of his ballot could get him in trouble.

No action was taken against Crookston. But under Michigan law and state policies, election workers can throw out a ballot and a voter can be charged with a misdemeanor.

Assistant Solicitor General Ann Sherman argued in a court filing that selfies will lead to even more delays at polling places as voters take pictures - or avoid getting into another voter's shot.

"Camera phones and other photography and videography are acceptable in many circumstances and locations. But not in the voting booth," Sherman said. "It is not unconstitutional to ban them to preserve the decorum, integrity and sanctity of the polling place and to ensure that the needs of all voters are met."

Crookston, she said, has other options outside a polling place to immediately express his "civic pride or disgust" about his ballot.

But state Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, praised the judge's decision.

"When people are excited to vote, they should be encouraged to share that enthusiasm," he said.

Published: Wed, Oct 26, 2016