Suit challenges ban on photographing ballots

GRAND RAPIDS (AP) - A man who says he has a constitutional right to take a photo of himself as he votes, otherwise known as a ballot selfie, has challenged Michigan's long-standing ban on photographing ballots.

Joel Crookston, 32, of Portage sued in Grand Rapids federal court last month, arguing his First Amendment right to free speech was unconstitutionally limited by state law and policies designed to discourage voter intimidation, The Detroit News reported.

"State law and orders from the Secretary of State threaten Crookston and all Michigan voters with forfeiting their votes, fines and even imprisonment for this simple, effective act of political speech," attorney Stephen Klein wrote in a request for a preliminary injunction.

The ban covers photos posted online, such as social media. Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams said the ballot exposure law, which dates back to 1891, helped eliminate what had been problems with vote buying and coercion. The attorney general's office is asking the court to keep the ban in place.

Crookston hopes for a ruling before next month's election. The lawsuit also challenges a Michigan policy prohibiting the use of video cameras, cellphone cameras or other recording equipment inside a polling place. Exceptions are often made for members of the media reporting on elections.

Photography by poll watchers or challengers could "disrupt the orderly conduct of an election and be viewed by some voters as intimidating or coercive," Elections Bureau Director Chris Thomas said in an affidavit filed by the state.

Crookston had posted a photo of his ballot on Facebook in 2012, showing his friends he had cast a write-in vote for a former college classmate as one of his two selections for Michigan State University trustee. He later learned the post could be considered a misdemeanor.

He wasn't prosecuted, but Crookston's legal complaint says he will refrain from taking ballot photos in the future because he now knows the law.

"It's kind of a silly thing, for sure," Crookston said. "But I think anytime the First Amendment is being limited by our government, we have a responsibility to challenge that."

Woodhams said he wasn't aware of any criminal charges being filed in such a case.

Published: Thu, Oct 06, 2016