Some Sonoma County residents will hit the polls today to cast votes on a couple of ballot measures. To prove they voted, some of them might be tempted to snap a selfie with their ballots and post the images on Facebook or Instagram — but they would be breaking the law.
California prohibits voters from showing their marked ballots and taking pictures at polling places. However, a North Bay legislator wants to change that, making it legal for voters to take and share “ballot selfies.”
Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, announced Monday he will introduce a bill in January to allow voters to pose with their marked ballots, including at the polls, by 2017.
Levine said “selfie” photos are a form of free speech that should be protected and state law should be changed to reflect that.
“It’s something voters are engaging in already,” Levine said in a phone interview. “We have to protect that political speech.”
Sonoma County’s registrar of voters, Bill Rousseau, questioned whether Levine’s proposal would conflict with the state constitution, which states “voting shall be secret.”
However, Levine said existing state laws that prohibit voters from sharing images of their marked ballots may be unconstitutional. He cited a New Hampshire case from earlier this year when a federal court struck down a law that prohibited ballot selfies, saying it violated freedom of speech.
Last month, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction that barred the state of Indiana from enforcing its ban on photos of ballots.
Under California law, anyone who whips out a camera and starts taking pictures at a polling place could face a felony charges, punishable by up to a year in jail. However, the state traditionally hasn’t enforced that rule.
Unaware it was against the law, Omar Medina last November posted on Facebook a photo of himself slipping his ballot into the ballot box at a polling site.
He was a candidate for a seat on the Santa Rosa City Schools board in that election. Supporters also had posted on his page photos of their marked ballots that showed they voted for him.
“It’s a freedom-of-speech issue,” Medina said. “One should be able to say either how he or she voted or, in (the) case of posting an unfilled-ballot picture, help provide info on how to vote.”
He agreed with Levine that the law needs to be changed to reflect the digital age. With so many people online and connecting on social media, Levine contends ballot selfies can boost voter turnout and civic participation.
“Social media is a great tool to share their pride in voting,” said Levine, who said he, too, has taken photos with ballots in the past and shared them.
Rousseau said nearly three-quarters of the county’s 245,000 registered voters cast ballots by mail. Many end up posting pictures online before dropping their ballots in the mailbox, he said.
“We can’t stop people from taking a picture at home,” he said
He’s seen such images on Facebook and “every time I see it, I cringe,” Rousseau said.
While he agreed selfies could encourage more people to vote, Rousseau said he has privacy concerns about allowing people to take photos at polling places where other voters are present.
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