Secretary of State settles in favor of ballot selfies

Jocelyn Benson at a press conference in Flint, Feb. 21, 2019 | Ken Coleman

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson settled a lawsuit Wednesday that challenged Michigan’s law banning “ballot selfies,” or photographs taken of a ballot in the voting booth.

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Benson’s settlement makes it legal for voters to take a photo of their ballot in the voting booth, but leaves in place restrictions on photography in other areas of Michigan’s polling places.

That includes photographs of one’s self “either in the voting booth or anywhere within the area where people are voting,” which remain restricted.

When asked if the Secretary of State’s office was concerned that given the common definition of a “selfie” as a picture of one’s self, some voters still may be unclear on what is and isn’t allowed in the voting booth, spokesperson Shawn Starkey said “the agreement allows voters to photograph their own ballot. That’s it.”

Benson said in a statement that the settlement “allows voters to have a full opportunity to express themselves, while at the same time ensuring that voters retain the ability to vote in private and without disruption or discomfort.”

Attorney General Dana Nessel added that it “strikes an appropriate balance between the freedom of speech and the need to protect the secrecy of the ballot and the decorum of the polling place.”

Steven Johnson

The lawsuit, Crookston v. Johnson, filed in 2016, challenged an existing Michigan law that “forbids voters from exposing their marked ballots to others.” It cites a photograph that Crookston took of himself with a ballot in 2012 that an attorney subsequently warned him could be illegal.

During last year’s Lame Duck legislative session, state Rep. Steve Johnson (R-Wayland) introduced House Bill 4328 that would have allowed photography of both one’s ballot and one’s self.

After that bill failed to pass, he introduced a similar bill, HB 4196, in this session. That bill is currently under review by the House Committee on Elections and Ethics.

In addition to maintaining restrictions on photographing one’s self and other objects or people in a polling place, the settlement also points out that it’s still forbidden to share “images of a voted ballot within 100 feet from the polling place — the buffer zone where electioneering is prohibited.”

Derek Robertson
Derek Robertson covers local government, education, health care and the social safety net, and LGBTQ issues. Previously, he wrote for Politico Magazine in Washington, and before that covered local politics in Chicago. He is a Genesee County native and graduate of both Wayne State University, where he studied history, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He enjoys film, the Detroit Pistons and his cat. He once competed in the National Spelling Bee, but was eliminated before any potential ESPN appearances.

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