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Photo Booth Or Voting Booth? ACLU Takes On Indiana’s “Ballot Selfie Law”

Lauren Koepp and Kara Smyth pose for a photo after casting their votes on Election Day early Tuesday morning, Nov. 4, 2014 in Austin, Texas.

CREDIT: AP/Tamir Kalifa.

Ever thought of taking a picture in the ballot booth? Think again—you could be committing a felony.

In Indiana, a new bill (Senate Bill 466) known as the “ballot selfie law” would make taking a digital image or picture of yourself with your completed ballot and sharing it on social media a potential felony. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana, citing first amendment protections, is challenging the law.

It filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, arguing that citizens should be able to exercise their freedom of expression by taking pictures and sharing their views with others.

The battle over taking photos in the voting booth has become a problem as the rise of technology has created new questions regarding the limits of freedom and political expression. Earlier this month in New Hampshire, a federal judge struck down a law enacted before the 2014 election that banned voters from taking or sharing photos and imposed fines of up to $1,000 for showing photographs of completed ballots to others or posting them on social media for violating constitutional freedom of speech laws.

The Indiana law, like the New Hampshire law, justifies its restrictions on free speech by saying it is necessary to protecting against the “buying” of votes.

As ACLU of Indiana Attorney Gavin Rose explains: “There’s some concern among legislators that people will purchase votes and demand physical proof you voted the way they told you to, but I don’t know that’s ever occurred in Indiana… this is a dramatic overreaction to a problem that might not even be a problem at all.”

In response, State Senator Pete Miller (R-Brownsburg), author the legislation, said:

“We’re not trying to infringe on anyone’s first amendment rights.  If someone wants to tweet or Facebook that I voted for so-and-so and scream it from the hills, by all means we want people to do that. It’s just taking a picture. Even though it’s not a pressing issue, it has been in the past. There’s a reason we have secret ballots.”

Miller argued that the bill encouraged free speech by newly allowing phones in the voting booth, regardless of the restrictions on photos.

In a social media saturated world, the line between the necessary privacy of political thought and the unnecessary restriction of public displays of political speech is hard to navigate, and Indiana’s “ballot selfie law” shows just how blurry this line has become.

Jazmin Kay is a reporter for Generation Progress, covering voting rights and civic engagement. Follow her on Twitter at @jazminlkay.

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