The Voting Booth Selfie Ban Might Be Overturned by Election Day

This photo is legal.
This photo is legal.

UPDATE at 4:04 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016: The selfie ban stays, at least until Jan. 1. See details at the bottom. Story first posted at 6:06 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016.

It's illegal to take a selfie with your ballot in the voting booth. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone enforcing that rule, however. In fact, the state Legislature this year passed a law, AB 1494, that will allow you to snap ballot photos and share them with the world. But the bill doesn't go into effect until Jan. 1.

Until then, says California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, you'll be an outlaw if you snap a selfie at the polls. But wait! This week the ACLU decided to challenge the soon-to-be-extinct law in an effort to let you get your selfie on Nov. 8.

A U.S. District Court judge has agreed to hear the case today, and ACLU lawyers are hopeful that a ruling will be issued quickly so that you'll be able to legally snap shots in selfie mode come Tuesday. "We think this is a good time to do it so it's in place for this important election," says Leslie Fulbright, communications director of the ACLU of Northern California.

The suit actually challenges Padilla, a former L.A. city councilman, and his view that voting booth selfies are illegal. "My office stands ready to comply with any decision handed down by the court on this matter," Padilla said in a statement.

"The suit argues that photographing and sharing one’s ballot is political speech protected by the First Amendment, and any attempt to enforce the current ban is an unconstitutional violation of the right to free speech," according to a statement from the civil liberties organization. "ACLU attorneys have asked for a temporary restraining order to prohibit the state from enforcing the ban for the November election."

Interestingly, Padilla doesn't necessarily disagree with the group's goal. He just says he's doing his job of interpreting state law as it stands today. He issued a memo on Oct. 12 letting county election officials know ballot selfies were illegal until January. Yesterday he sort of said godspeed to the ACLU.

"While sympathetic to efforts to accelerate the use of this new form of political expression for the November 2016 election, state law currently prohibits it and only a court of law can authorize such a change, especially one proposed on the eve of the election," Padilla said in the statement. "In the meantime, voters can still take a selfie of their 'I Voted' sticker."

The ACLU isn't settling for stickers. "People have a constitutional right to share these photos, and I’m surprised that the government is trying to deny them this fundamental right when there is still a week before Election Day," Michael Risher, an ACLU senior staff attorney, said in a statement.

UPDATE at 4:04 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016: The court denied the challenge, according to the ACLU. That means, technically at least, you're not supposed to be snapping selfies of you and your ballot on Tuesday.

"It's true," the ACLU of Northern California tweeted today. "The judge denied our request. So the law stays in place until January."

Fulbright of the ACLU added, "We don't have time for an appeal."


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