U.S. judge strikes down New Hampshire ban on ballot photos

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 11, 2015 10:15 PM

By Ted Siefer

CONCORD, N.H. (Reuters) - A federal judge on Tuesday struck down a New Hampshire law barring voters from sharing photos of their filled-out ballots online, saying the statute violated constitutional free speech laws.

New Hampshire's so-called "ballot selfie" law was enacted ahead of the 2014 election. It was intended to revise laws passed about a century ago when vote-buying was relatively widespread and voters shared their marked ballot to redeem promises of cash or other inducements.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro sided with the American Civil Liberties Union in ruling that the ban on posting images of marked ballots on social media websites served largely to restrict voters' political expression rather than combat vote-rigging.

"As the complaints of the voters who are now under investigation reveal, the people who are most likely to be ensnared by the new law are those who wish to use images of their completed ballots to make a political point," Barbadoro wrote in the ruling.

Three people were investigated in New Hampshire by the office of the secretary of state for violating the law, including a man who posted a picture of his ballot on Facebook.

On it, he had the name of his dog as his Republican choice for the U.S. Senate — an act meant to show dissatisfaction with the candidates.

Most states have laws against the display of marked ballots, and Barbadoro's ruling could deter them from using the laws to restrict contemporary social media use in the voting booth.

The New Hampshire branch of the ACLU sued the state over the law in 2014.

"Today's decision is a victory for the First Amendment," Gilles Bissonnette, the legal director of the ACLU-NH, said in a statement. "The First Amendment does not allow the state to, as it was doing here, broadly ban innocent political speech with the hope that such a sweeping ban would address underlying criminal conduct."

The office of the New Hampshire secretary of state could not immediately be reached for comment.

(Reporting by Ted Siefer in Concord, New Hampshire; Editing by Eric M. Johnson and Mohammad Zargham)