Are Post-Vote Ballot Selfies A First Amendment Right? Activists, Snapchat Says So

Because it’s 2016 and people take selfies while doing everything from eating dinner to driving, states, constitutional activists, politicians, and Snapchat are debating whether voters can take pictures near the ballot box.

In case you haven’t heard yet, so-called “ballot selfies” are a thing and recently became the center of a serious debate over First Amendment rights and voter fraud, the New York Times reported.

The phenomenon goes something like this: Young people sidle into the booth to cast their vote, and afterward whip out their smartphones, strike a pose, and take a picture. This can be a photo of the booth itself or even a completed ballot.

Snapchat has called these selfies “the latest way that voters, especially young voters, engage with the political process.”

And that engagement may be a First Amendment-protected right of both free speech and political expression, Inverse added.

Laws vary state by state. South Carolina and other states don’t restrict the practice too much, while Pennsylvania and Vermont will lodge fines of $1,000 against practitioners. In Wisconsin and Illinois, ballot selfies are a serious felony. Three states have ruled that it’s a right to take a photo in the booth.

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The issue is being hotly debated in New Hampshire right now. The practice was banned, then that ruling overturned; an appeal process is underway. Snapchat, the New England First Amendment Coalition, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press joined forces to file amicus briefs (documents filed by parties interested in the case, which tell the court information and arguments they may want to think about) in New Hampshire on Friday.

There are few compelling arguments for ballot selfies and one pretty serious argument against them.

Firstly, they could be seen as a modern expression of civic pride and could inspire young people — who aren’t the best voters — to participate in the political process. Many people use social media for political or civic purposes, and sites like Snapchat are a platform for excited young voters to interact with the democratic process.

“It is precisely because a ballot selfie proves how a voter has exercised her franchise that it is an unmatched expression of civic engagement,” Snapchat argued. “There is, simply put, no substitute for this speech.”

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“Whether it’s a campaign button or a selfie, Snapchat believes that expressing participation in the democratic process is an important part of free speech and civic engagement that the First Amendment roundly protects.”

Such selfies could, in theory, expose issues as well, “keeping the system honest, and documenting the election process and quickly identifying flaws… and being able to share them quickly and easily with other voters,” said Justin Silverman, the executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition.

Then there’s the constitutional argument. People have a protected right to free speech and political expression, and ballot selfies are a form of that expression. Snapchat also thinks that bans against in-booth pictures violate its First Amendment rights as well. As part of this argument, the company called itself a news-gathering operation and watchdog.

But on the opposite side of Snapchat is the belief that ballot selfies could be manipulated in a modern-day version of vote-buying, argued New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner. If people are allowed to take pictures inside the voting booth, those pictures could be used by corrupt people as proof that the votes they bought were cast.

Gardner said it would be a new form of an old trick, and the sanctity of the voting booth needs to be preserved.

“Going back a long time in history, there always have been attempts to take that secrecy away.”

[Image via Burlingham/Shutterstock]