Thursday, November 3, 2016

Fed Judge: No Ballot Selfies During This Election in California

On Wednesday, a federal judge in San Francisco, William Alsup, has upheld a 100+ year old California laws that bans voters from disclosing the contents of their marked ballots to anyone. These laws were initially implemented to prevent vote-buying and voter intimidation. Back in the old days, vote buyers would demand to see the marked ballots. But now many people just feel the urge to take pics of their ballots for their social media accounts.

That’s why the plaintiff in the lawsuit, the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that these laws are outdated and violate freedom of expression. ACLU insists that voters should be free to take pictures of their ballots, upload them to social media and use them to persuade their friends.

California legislators have actually already repealed those laws but the reversal does not come into effect until January 1, 2017. So, the ACLU lawsuit essentially sought to move that effective date to cover the elections this year.

However, the judge refused to do that. He stated that suspending the old laws less than a week before the election would be “a recipe for confusion.” “No one is at fault more than the ACLU for bringing this lawsuit at the last minute and trying to jam this down their throat,” Alsup said.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla issued a statement, "I supported a new law that is paving the way for “ballot selfies” to be permitted under state law. This new law will go into effect on January 1, 2017. In the meantime, voters can still take a selfie with their ‘I Voted’ sticker... Californians can still use their smartphones at the polls. Many voters use their smartphones to access their sample ballot or notes they have made about candidates and ballot measures.”

So, ballot-box selfies will be allowed at future elections in California but not before January 1, 2017.

Some states allow voting selfies, some do not, and in some states the situation is unclear which confuses the voters. E.g., when Justin Timberlake took a selfie inside a voting booth in Tennessee to encourage young people to vote early, he may have broken a law without realizing it. Justin Timberlake is not being prosecuted for this and it is unlikely that voters in California will be. So far, California has not enforced its ballot selfie ban.