Snapchat fights ban on ‘ballot selfies’

ballot selfie voting polls

Snapchat thinks it is your right as an American citizen to take a selfie in the voting booth and share it on social media, maybe with some patriotic filters and hashtags.

The company filed an amicus brief on Friday against a ban on so-called ballot selfies in New Hampshire.

“Ballot selfies” are photos taken in the voting booth of ballots that may or may not include the voter’s face. The social media app says it has received thousands of these images from around the country.

But if you took one of them, you may have broken the law.

Laws on photos in voting booths and polling places vary state by state. In New York, it is legal to take a picture, but the state recommends doing so before filling out your ballot. In California, cameras are banned in the voting booth and polling places. And in some states like Pennsylvania, taking a picture inside a voting booth can get you a $1,000 fine or a 12-month stint in jail. In Wisconsin, showing someone else your filled-out ballot is a felony.

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The various bans were instated to prevent voter fraud. If someone can prove how they voted, that image might be used to sell votes or for voter coercion, the states argue.

But Snapchat says ballot selfies are protected by the First Amendment and wants to change those laws — starting with New Hampshire.

In August 2015, a federal court struck down a New Hampshire law that prohibited ballot selfies. The case is now being appealed in the First Circuit court.

In a 26-page brief, Snapchat argues that user-generated political coverage is a major source of content on the service, especially in its Live Stories. Laws that limit people from taking and sharing photos or videos of “content that comments on the issues of the day” restrict news gathering, according to the company.

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Furthermore, Snapchat argues that ballot selfies are an important part of the political process for young voters and can encourage voter turnout. It compares sharing the images to wearing campaign buttons or “I Voted” stickers.

“The ballot selfie captures the very essence of that [political] process as it happens — the pulled lever, the filled-in bubble, the punched-out chad — and thus dramatizes the power that one person has to influence our government,” says the brief.

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