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Ballot selfies: Protected political speech vs. election integrity

September 23, 2015

By Jeremy Quattlebaum, Student Voices staff writer

Chances are when you vote in your first election, you’re going to be pretty excited. You have finally reached the age when you can vote for a candidate whom you support. So why not take a ballot box selfie and show your love of democracy and the voting process?

Because it might be illegal.

Andrew Langlois of Berlin, N.H., learned this the hard way. While voting in the 2014 Republican primary, Langlois took a photo of his ballot and posted it to Facebook. A few days later, he received a phone call from the state Attorney General’s Office. Langlois had violated a state law that bars photographing a ballot. He faced a fine of up to $1,000.

And Langlois wasn’t alone in breaking the state’s no-ballot selfie law that year. In fact, some of the people on the ballot found themselves in the crosshairs of the Attorney General’s Office. Leon Rideout, a state representative, posted a ballot selfie encouraging others to vote. Brandon Ross, who was running for a state office for the first time, posted a photo of his name on the ballot. Both were informed that they had violated the law.

New Hampshire isn’t alone with bans on ballot selfies or photos of ballots. Most states have laws banning photos of completed ballots. These laws are intended to reduce voter fraud. Some states have laws that permit photographs of empty ballots, but ban snapping photos of completed ballots. Other states outright ban photographs inside voting booths.

Some of these laws, election officials say, are in compliance with the Voting Rights Act, which bans intimidation at polling stations. Photographing or videotaping people entering polling stations was used as an intimidation tactic to keep minority voters from heading to the polls.

Ballot selfies, others argue, clash with the concept that American elections are private and anonymous. All states having secret-ballot laws that prevent votes being tied to the person who cast them to reduce voter intimidation and prevent buying votes to fix an election.

Daniel Smith, a political scientist at the University of Florida, argues that ballot-selfie bans help keep elections fair. “I certainly think it's a good thing to prohibit photographing ballots,” including absentee ballots, he said. “If voters are able to photograph their ballots, they have a greater likelihood of being compensated for their vote, as it allows them to provide documentary proof to ballot brokers."

Bans on taking selfies in voting booths were aimed at preventing voter fraud and intimidation, but as smart phones have become ubiquitous, these laws have run up against free speech rights.

On one hand, you have the secrecy and security of elections while on the other you have law that some say prevents political speech, which has been routinely protected by the Supreme Court under the First Amendment. Jeffery Hermes, of the Media Law Center, says laws preventing ballot selfies are unusual and more complicated than they appear. “Usually banning political speech would be a violation of the First Amendment,” Hermes said in a Washington Post interview. “But with photography at polling places, there’s an intersection of two fundamental aspects of democracy: freedom of speech and the integrity of the voting process.”

Facing a hefty fine, Langlois decided to fight the law. He was backed by the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, which argued that the law violated the First Amendment’s right to political speech.

Defending the law, the state government argued that it was aimed at preventing the buying of votes and making the elections anonymous and independent.

On August 11, U.S. District Judge Raul Barbadoro ruled in favor of Langlois, striking down the law as unconstitutional. He wrote that the law “deprives voters of one of their most powerful means of letting the world know how they voted.” He continued: “[T]he means that the state has chosen to address the issue will, for the most part, punish only the innocent while leaving actual participants in vote buying and voter coercion schemes unscathed.”

The ruling affects only the New Hampshire law on ballot-selfie bans, so it is likely that laws in other states will still be on the books next Election Day. Contacting your state’s election agency is a good way to find out if that ballot selfie is worth a possible fine.

What do you think?

Should states have bans on ballot selfies? Do you agree that photos of completed ballots harm the integrity of elections? Are ballot selfies protected political speech? How do states balance the First Amendment rights of voters while keeping the election free of fraud? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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Midlothian, Virginia
Midlothian Middle
I think that ballot selfies should not be banned. When taking a ballot selfie, most people are likely doing it to show that they voted or are being an active citizen. By sharing this selfie, it's quite similar to wearing an "I Voted" sticker that they hand out at voting locations. Banning these pictures bans people from promoting being an active citizen and fulfilling your civic responsibility!

Midlothian, Virginia
Midlothian Middle School
No, I do not think it should be agianst hte law to take "ballot selfies." If the concern is voter fraud, a vote has already been cast under that name so it can not be fraudulated. In fact, it should be encouraged to take selfies when voting because it promotes fulfilling your civic responsibility!

Stroudsburg Pa
Mr.Hana Stroudsburg JHS
No states should not ban them via we they are fun to do and no it doesn't at all

Vanessa H.
No, I don't believe it should be banned. We need more younger people to vote and if they want to hype everyone up to vote then that's a good thing. People say that we need to reduce voter fraud... But there's really nothing to reduce if you look at the statistics there is little to no voting fraud.

Stroudsburg, PA
Mr. Hanna/Stroudsburg JHS
I beileve every state should ban ballot selfies. This is wrong and should not be allowed. I understand that you would like to celebrate actually getting to vote, but that doesn't make it right. When people vote they expect it to be private and anonymous. We need to reduce voter fraud and not intimidate minority voters. No one should be afraid of their votes or getting to vote because of the new fad, selfies.

Stroudsburg, PA
Gigi S.
Mr. Hanna/Stroudsburg JHS
I think that states should have a ban on completed ballot selfies only. I do not think that there is anything wrong with engouraging others to go out and vote by simply taking a picture of an incomplete ballot. However, taking pictures of completed ballots harms the integrity of the election. If you were so focused on telling people to vote for one person, just tell them. You should not, for any reason, take a picture of a completed ballot. This is not violating protected political speech, it is trying to prevent the buying of votes. Keep the election free of fraud and preserve your protected political speech by only banning photographs of completed ballots.

Diamond Bar, CA
I think that ballot selfies should be banned in all states. All votes from voters should be confidential (unless you really want to tell them.) It could also cause trouble like faux ballots and multiple ballots for one person. People may also get made fun of for not picking the person they voted for. Ballot selfies are not a protected right of free speech because it could cause a change in the outcome of the election. As I said before, it is confidential and you should keep your opinions to your self.

Victoria Period 1
I believe that ballot selfies should be banned for the integrity of elections. Photos of completed ballots may cause trouble for the individuals because they are supposed to be confidential, you may pressure others to follow suit, and vote for the person you believe is right. In fact, even blank ballots can cause trouble since it is allowing the duplication of ballots causing fake ballots to effect the outcome of the voting. Ballots selfies are not protected speech because it is jeopardizing the integrity of elections and protection of citizens that may be fine. In the end, I believe states have the right to ban ballot selfies for the protection of the citizens and the elections.

I believe that there should be a ban on ballot selfies. While it clearly is different in other states, it is illegal to even have a phone out in the polling place by Texas law. Taking a ballot selfie implies that, at least in Texas, you are simply breaking the law by taking any picture at all. Another reason to ban ballot selfies is because the reason for secrecy is to protect citizens. As was a common problem in America before voting reforms, people would be required to vote for certain political parties if they didn't want to risk their job. If we allowed ballot selfies, unions or businesses could require you to present valid proof that you voted the way they desired, and if proof couldn't be provided or evidence showed they voted differently, than the worker could be fired. Also, as Texas law and, if I am correct, federal law states that you can't electioneer within 100 feet of the voting area, and how you voted could be counted as electioneering (attempting to get people to vote as you did by showing them exactly what you voted for) it is a crime. As for taking away your right to political free speech, you are free to tell everyone how you voted, just as long as it is outside the 100 foot electioneering distance. If you truly desire to tell everyone how you voted, you may print a sample copy of the ballot and fill out the sample copy which may be posted online or be shown to anyone outside of the 100 foot marker of the location which voting is taking place.

Diamond Bar, CA
I agree that states should ban ballot selfies. Taking a picture of ballot shows others what you believe and you can be bullied for that. We see that in schools all the time. Another example is the Alien and Sedition Act. This act put aliens and Democratic-Republicans in jail because they had a voice. By banning ballot selfies you can keep the voting anonymous. I'm not saying that you can't take selfies showing that you voted or are going to. Just find another way to do that. Such as a photo of yourself wearing the "I voted" sticker or with the voting room behind yourself. Just don't show the ballot, complete or not. The First Amendment does protect political speech, but banning ballot selfies can protect the citizens. Isn't that the whole purpose of the Bill of Rights? To protect the citizens.

To take a ballot selfie should be a right granted to us. Though it is our duty as citizens to vote, the ability to finally have a voice in our government, to at last be able to participate in our government- a right that our ancestors before us weren't given, is an achievement. People should have pride for voting and should be free to express and share their pride with their friends and family. At least, those who would treasure this right (should it be made legal) would believe. There are people who do not hold elections in such high regard and make a mockery of it. For example, in the state of New Hampshire, a man wrote his dog's name on his ballot and wrote of his disapproval for the candidates. This is disrespectful to the privacy of voting and to those who truly wish to celebrate their first elections, because it makes it seem young people cannot conduct themselves. The man was protected under freedom of political speech to write his judgement, but he made a joke of the election. Photos of completed ballots are out of the questions. I believe with the privilege of taking ballot selfies and sharing the joy elections bring with loved ones, there should be restrictions that also keep integrity at voting booths and maintain voting sanctity.

Any law that violates are rights of the constitution, are considered to be illegal and unconstitutional. I believe the more rights we give away to these laws, the more are freedom will be limited. If it violates our rights in any way, it should be considered unconstitutional and be prohibited. Just like gun laws, 2nd amendment says we have the right to bear arms, but there are laws that regulate this issue...

States should have the right to ban ballot selfies because it does ruin the integrity of elections. More people than not are influenced by the people around them- if they were to view the election ballot of a neighbor, it's likely for them to choose the same one just to obtain some sense of belonging. If an individual truly feels the need to express their vote out loud and publicly, there are plenty other ways to do so. It's like saying there's only one way to tie a shoelace- we all know that's not true, even if we don't want to admit it.

Bradley /Nimitz
States should have not ban taking a photo of an incomplete ballot selfies because it is limiting the first amendment by saying you can not publicized the candidate you are voting for. The first amendment states that we have freedom of political speech which me we can talk anything that is political in anyway. A photo of an incomplete ballot shows that you care for politics . But by having a photo of a ballot complete can in some way integrity because who you vote for should be anonymous and not publicized on the Internet. In that sense people can take a picture with a incomplete ballot with not one marking but if marker may be find to keep the country free of fraud.

The thing about this topic is that people aren’t intentionally doing what it is they are unaware they are doing. Taking a ballot selfie shouldn’t be that big of a deal seeing as though it’s been ongoing and nothing’s happened, yet. Until then I think it’s safe to take the ballot selfies because it just shows how everything is evolving with the times. Now, in bringing in integrity of voting, people should already realize that times are changing and not everything is going to stay the same. It’s now who a lot of us are to take a selfie with everything because that’s what technology has handed to us.

The issue of ballot selfies is one that should not be as big of an issue as it has become. There is an obvious compromise here, one in which the voters can take all of the pictures they want, as long as they do not include ballots, voting machinery, or other voters entering or leaving the voting premises. As long as they are not infringing on voter secrecy or the integrity of the voting process, ballot selfies should be allowed.

Of course there are those who can't seem to stop taking pictures of themselves. To me, a voting ballot shouldn't be one of those places. It obviously shows that taking selfies of yourself that include the voting ballot (completed or not) would show some sort of bias on which politician to vote for. I believe that it should be illegal to submit selfies while voting because it will cause voting controversy in the election in which we are voting. for example, bias and persuasion into making others think that the politician they are voting for is perfect and will vote for that politician.

Bradley/Nimitz High School
Overall as a whole I do feel that the states do need to ban ballot selfies due to the simple reason that it does take away the privacy and discretion of others. It is clearly understandable the reasoning behind wanting to take ballot selfies especially for the first time, but there are better forms to promote voting at the election polls to the people. When posting and promoting ballot selfies I do feel it does harm the integrity of the election, because, there then does not necessarily have to be any specific guidelines on what can be posted on the ballot photograph. Another reasoning behind it interfering with integrity at the polls is the ballot being posted on social media completed , it most likely will create unnecessary arguments and disputes amongst we the people who are supposed to be united and under one nation. I feel the states can protect and balance the first amendment while keeping the election free of fraud by creating a simple anonymous website for the people who are eligible to vote by simply by completing a survey only stating they have voted and not for whom therefore letting them be able to share that via social media. For if one does take a moment to step back to realize and ration the whole reasoning behind ballots being changed to all look alike in color was to protect the privacy of one's vote ,and, by allowing ballot selfies it would just defeat the whole purpose of that change that was put in place to begin with.

States are allowed to ban ballot selfies because it's a privilege to vote and we should keep that high respect voting has and is power.There is a difference between taking a ballot selfie with one that is completed and one that is not because a selfie of an uncompleted baloot doesn't have any harm of violating discretion. I think that taking a picture of a complete ballot could harm the integrity of voting because our forefathers of this country went to a-lot of trouble to make our votes discrete and stop big business to tell who you're voting for. Ballot selfies are in a way protected in political speech because this allows citizen to show their enthusiasm of being part of something big in this great nation. Ballot selfies crosses the line when the ballot is filled out because this doesn't keep the discretion voting needs to have so it ruins the integrity of voting. States allow their residents to choose who they want to vote in secrecy and also voice their views in elections in reasonable manners. States take their votes seriously because the votes that actually count are the electoral votes so they want all the votes to be done with utter most honesty which can be done with secrecy of their ballots.

To many young adults, the act of voting is the first major step towards adulthood. Of course, these eager, young adults can’t wait to say that their vote counts, and in the midst of all of this excitement, these young adults may want to take a selfie to document their pride and joy in participating in voting. Why should they be stopped? If a person were to take a selfie after they’ve placed their vote, chances are they’re extremely proud and thrilled to be included. However, some states say that a ballot selfie is prohibited. In New Hampshire and other states, ballot selfies, where completed ballots are included, are banned. By banning ballot selfies, states are protecting the anonymity of their voters. But by banning ballot selfies, states may also be violating the First Amendment. Many new voters are flustered: are they allowed to take a selfie at the polls? The answer is currently no, in some states with certain restrictions, but the answer should be yes. Voters should be able to take a ballot selfie on Election Day, but perhaps not of the actual selfie. According to Merriam-Webster, a selfie is an image taken of oneself by oneself. Technically, a selfie is just a picture of yourself; the ballot wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) be included. If the selfie doesn’t include the voter’s ballot, then the integrity of the elections wouldn’t be harmed. Likewise, if the ballot is included in the selfie, then the integrity of the elections is compromised. Prohibiting a selfie that is taken at the voting polls violates the freedom of political speech. But, if that selfie does contain private and confidential information. In order to maintain the balance of voters’ First Amendment rights and keeping the election fraud-free, states would need to enact laws to keep both sides happy. Young adults are excited to vote. Selfies at the voting polls should be allowed, but only under certain restrictions.

States should ban ballot selfies as it compromises the legitimacy and privacy of elections, and this can lead to a multitude of problems. If allow people to just publicise their choises and supported canidates which could lead to discrimination based on people who see it, a source of bias depending on friends or followers of the person who post the selfie. There is no real pro or neccesity to ballot selfies in the first place, so for the good of elections and voters, ballot selfies should remain banned.

I believe that the state should ban the ballot selfies because it is taking the freedom and privacy of the other people who is voting. and I also believe that the completed ballot selfies are harming the integrity of the election because when we take the selfie of the completed ballot then it might can lead to cheating and it is not fair. No the ballot selfies are not protected political speech because every voting is important in the US and the selfies is a violation to that. and the state is balancing the first amendment rights of voters while keeping the election free of fraud by is by banning the selfie in ballot because that can lead to fraud but they have the freedom of speech because the can say whatever they think. So I think it is important to ban the selfie with the ballots.

Irving, TX
Ballot selfies should not be taken with completed ballots. While the attempt to prevent voter fraud is very important as they are attempting to protect one of the most valuable rights of Americans. A selfie with aq blank ballot is harmless. All it allows is for people to see who is on the ballot and that someone is partaking in the voting process. As long as the selfies do not show who the person is voting for in any position, the integrity of the vote is not compromised and no harm is done. All that exists is a photo of a proud American with their blank ballot as they prepare to exercise their right to vote.

Julia A
States should ban ballot selfies because it breaks the rules for voting. Every vote is valuable and therefore by letting others who you vote for by taking selfies hurts the integrity of election.Ballot selfies are illegal and so the votes should be kept secret. Everyone have the right to free speech , but breaking the law of secret ballot to show their right is not a good decision.

Taking a ballot selfie is an act that has evolved from the world of modern technology, and oblivious citizens. Not only does taking a ballot selfie ruin the anonymity of your vote, but also attacks the integrity of voting as national right. Voting is something that should be valued by all citizens of the United States, and that means keeping the respect for it's power throughout the years. Ballot selfies should be banned because of how unnecessary they are. It may be seen as free political speech, but represents a flaw in the voting system because it encourages others to share their votes with the world, and that effects how anonymous the voting system is. States allow citizens to vote for who, and what they want, and just being able to freely choose, and speak your opinion about your choice is enough of a right, but any ballot published should be nullified because it is no longer a part of the anonymous votes.

Rudyard, Montana
Mrs. Campbell / North Star
I believe that states should ban ballot selfies since it violates the idea of having a secret ballot. If citizens are voting and posting pictures of who or what they are voting for, they are influencing others, whether they agree or disagree, on who they should vote for. Yes, it is fantastic that they are voting on issues and are excited about being able to vote. But documenting their decision for others to see isn't the brightest idea. Let's say I post a picture of my ballot choosing a person for president. How would other people looking at my picture know that my ballot wasn't bought or sponsored by whom I voted for? Additionally, whomever was elected office could keep count of all of the people that posted pictures of their ballot that didn't vote for them. How could they tell if I was an actual person instead of an ad . Even though as Americans, we have the right to free speech, but breaking the right to secret ballot infringes on voters right to be discrete.

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