Lawsuit challenges Michigan's 'ballot selfie' ban

Posted at 7:11 PM, Oct 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-06 09:36:52-04

Taking a selfie with your ballot on Election Day is against Michigan law, but one Portage man is trying to change that.

Joel Crookston, 32, is suing the state in federal court. He says he posted a picture of his ballot to show a friend who he voted for in 2012, but never realized the picture could land him in jail. Even though he didn't get in trouble Crookston says Michigan's law violates his First Amendment rights.

"This law just goes too far," said Crookston's Attorney Stephen Klein.

Klein said Michigan's ban on cameras in polling rooms limits a person's right to free speech. Plus he argued the law is ineffective, because if you scan social media on Election Day you'll find plenty of voters showing off their ballots.

"To be able to take a picture of their own ballots, not somebody else's, and post it on social media, they're not displaying that ballot within the polling place, they're not violating any of the traditional restrictions," Klein added.

In a court filing Attorney General Bill Schuette called the current laws,
"an effective deterrent to vote-buying and coercion, and ensure that voters are not intimidated or distracted by other voters' "selfies" or "ballot selfies."

Under state law if you're in the polling room and you're caught taking a selfie you'd have to forfeit your vote and you could face a misdemeanor with up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.

But the Secretary of State's office says it only tells election workers to throw away the ballot, not to report violators.

That's why Klein says the law should only target people who are taking pictures inappropriately.

"Photography, it can be intimidating," Klein said. "I think people can use that for nefarious reasons. You know going up too close to somebody, trying to take a picture of their ballot--those are all things that should be illegal and people should go to jail for trying to do that. We really do have to protect the integrity of the vote."

Klein is hoping the courts will see it that way too, and make a decision before the November election.

There is a bill in the state legislature that would let voters take pictures of themselves or their ballots at the polls, but it is stalled in a committee.

Recently a New Hampshire judge overturned a similar law there banning polling station pictures.