New Hampshire to defend ban on ballot-box selfies in court

Daily News Article   —   Posted on September 14, 2016

(by Scott Malone, Reuters) BOSTON — New Hampshire officials on Tuesday will try to persuade a federal appeals court that a 2014 law banning voters from posting online photos of their ballots on election day does not violate the U.S. right to free speech.

The state banned the practice two years ago in response to the growing trend of voters taking selfies with their filled-in ballots and posting them on social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter.

Opponents of the ban quickly charged that it violated the free-speech protections of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. A New Hampshire voter sued in October 2014 after posting online a photo of his ballot, on which he filled in the name of his dog as a sign of displeasure over his choices in the 2014 Republican primary for the U.S. Senate.

U.S. District Judge Paul Barbadoro agreed with that voter and his fellow plaintiffs, pronouncing the law unconstitutional in August 2015.

The state appealed the following month, setting the stage for Tuesday’s arguments before the First Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston.

New Hampshire argues that having the right to take a photo of a filled-in ballot and post it publicly risks a return to the problem of vote-buying, which ran rampant in the 19th century, when machine politicians [a politician who belongs to a small clique that controls a political party for private rather than public ends] secured votes through cash or liquor. [Stephen LaBonte of the New Hampshire attorney general’s office wrote in the March brief New Hampshire has a compelling interest in trying to prevent potential problems and ensuring “purity and integrity of our elections by protecting the longstanding tradition of the secret ballot.”]

“Imagine a less fortunate ’18-year-old, newly minted voter’ who has been informed that if she does not vote as she has been instructed, she will lose the job she needs to pay her college tuition,” state officials wrote in court papers supporting the ban.

Opponents of the measure contend ballot-box selfies are a form of political speech familiar to first-time voters, akin to the photos they post of themselves on vacation, at concerts or with friends.

“Any activity that increases civic engagement among younger voters should be recognized as a universal social good,” wrote the New England First Amendment Coalition and the Keene Sentinel newspaper in a brief supporting the challenge to the law, which allows for a fine of up to $1,000 for ballot selfies.

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