Sunday, May 9, 2021

Free speech wins: selfies in the voting booth


A few high school students across America will be 18 by November 8 and therefore able to vote in this fall’s election. As members of the young generation, many of those young voters carry all sorts of electronic devices, including smartphones that double as a camera. Now they can be comfortable shooting and posting pictures of themselves as they vote and of their ballot.

That’s because a US appellate court ruled today that New Hampshire’s ban on selfies of ballots or in the voting booth was unconstitutional, clearing the way for freedom of expression by young voters, the New York Times reports.

In 2014, New Hampshire enacted a law that prohibited people from taking selfies in the voting booth or shooting any photos of ballots, with or without a person in the frame.

Bill Gardner is New Hampshire’s secretary of state. He made the case in a federal district court that people who took photos of their ballots were possibly being forced to show proof of how they voted or post it to social media. He said, essentially, that if an organization were paying someone to vote a certain way, that organization might demand proof that the payee voted as instructed. The “I Voted” sticker apparently wasn’t enough for these folks.

There was no actual evidence that this sort of thing was happening on any kind of large scale, mind you. It was just a theory of how selfies in the voting booth could potentially be used.

But Snapchat—which is changing its name to Snap Inc, by the way—filed an amicus brief with the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in April, saying ballot selfies were “the latest way that voters, especially young voters, engage with the political process.”

It turns out, the app formerly known as Snapchat was right. The New England First Amendment Coalition and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed amicus briefs of their own, agreeing with Snapchat that ballot booth selfies were protected speech and the government couldn’t make a law prohibiting that speech.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for free speech in the digital age,” the Times quoted Chris Handman, general counsel for Snapchat, as saying in praise of the ruling. “We’re thrilled the court recognized that ballot selfies are an important way for Americans—especially younger Americans—to participate in the political process.”

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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