Media Abdicate Responsibility On Ballot Selfie Laws Violating the First Amendment

Laws banning ballot selfies—or any photos people might take of their completed election ballots—are absolutely, undeniably unconstitutional.

Unfortunately, most media outlets don't seem to care about that clear legal reality; they've decided to simply sell the story "Uh oh, look! You're not allowed to take ballot selfies in these states!"

Just look at the results for googling "ballot selfie":


Most of these articles—or at the very least, their headlines—follow the premise that states banning ballot selfies have legitimate laws that readers (and Justin Timberlake) need to fear and obey. The writers therefore abdicate any journalistic responsibility of informing readers how the laws are obviously unconstitutional and should be actively opposed. Some mention later in their articles how courts have ruled some states' laws unconstitutional recently, but if that information is buried well into the article, where many readers never arrive.

The only article I've seen that bucks this trend was written by Mark Joseph Stern, a Georgetown classmate of mine. Mark firmly proclaims that bans on ballot selfies are unconstitutional, detailing the recent court cases with that finding and tearing apart the faulty arguments supporting the bans.

2012, my first presidential election
(one of many ballot photos I've taken
over my seven years as a voter)
Most essentially, taking a photo of one's ballot and sharing it with others is no different from simply sharing how you voted with your words. Everyone has the right to a secret ballot, but we also have the freedom to say whatever we want about how we vote. Freedom of speech, if we truly believe in it as an expansive American ideal, must as a matter of course contain the freedom to take photos of one's votes.

As for me, I unknowingly violated Alaska statute 15.15.280 "Prohibiting the Exhibition of Marked Ballots" multiple times since I started voting. It says "a voter may not exhibit the voter's ballot to an election official or any other person so as to enable any person to ascertain how the voter marked the ballot." Somehow, though, I doubt that anyone in Alaska has ever been prosecuted for breaking that law.

On Election Day tomorrow, I now plan knowingly violate AS 15.15.280: I'll take a photo of my ballot, then exhibit it to other people enabling them to ascertain how I marked it. I daresay the state is not going to come after me, and if they do they'll lose in court. I hope every state with a ballot selfie ban gets sued or changes their statutes. Maybe after that the media will finally admit how unconstitutional these laws are.

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