Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Ballot Selfies Threaten Democracy! (Not Really A Joke)

Most of you readers may have noticed a sign in your voting booth, I think ours were pink, saying something to the effect of "Iowa law prohibits the use of cameras cell phones, or other devices in the voting booth."

Those signs may be a thing of the past thanks to a misguided New Hampshire federal court ruling that's way more important than you think it is.
A federal court on Tuesday struck down a New Hampshire law banning so-called “ballot selfies” because it violated free speech rights.

The ruling comes after the ACLU of New Hampshire filed a lawsuit in 2014 on behalf of three voters, including a member of the state’s House of Representatives, challenging the law.

The law, which went into effect Sept. 1, 2014, made it illegal for a person display a picture of a marked ballot, including on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

The ruling on Tuesday “struck down a state effort to explicitly ban this form of innocent political speech,” Bissonnette said. “Even if their concerns were compelling, the law was fundamentally over broad and swept within its scope innocent political speech.” 
 Wait a minute, Deeth. Aren't you the guy who's all about the free speech?

Yep. But the problem here, which New Hampshire argued unsuccessfully, is coercion.

The secret ballot was a big part of the downfall of old school machine politics. If the ballot was secret, you couldn't tell if those votes you bought stayed bought.

Boss Tweed would love this ruling, and the 21st century technology that brought the issue to court. You see, if you're allowed to photograph your ballot, you can be pressured to photo your ballot, so that Louie Kneecaps either pays you or doesn't break your kneecaps.

OK, Louie Kneecaps might be an old school and somewhat ethnic-specific stereotype, though those Cosa Nostra guys really did have the best nicknames. But threats can be a lot less sinister yet just as dangerous. In a society where economic and workplace protections are getting slimmer and slimmer, and where the first training video you see at your minimum wage job is the anti-union one, a lot of employers could be very interested in seeing your ballot if it was legal for you to take a picture.

Not that a boss would ever politically pressure his staff. Sure glad my ballot was secret THAT time.

So no, this isn't a free speech issue. It's a matter of protecting people from pressure. It's unfortunate New Hampshire couldn't make that case. Hopefully higher courts will decide more wisely, though given Citizens United I'm not confident. You think they're trying to buy elections now? Just wait till they can demand a receipt.

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