In the tussle over whether voters may take selfie photos of themselves casting ballots on Nov. 8 – an offbeat dispute being waged in numerous states – Michigan’s anti-selfie side scored a key victory Friday that bans the practice at least in the upcoming election.
The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati reversed Monday's ruling of U.S District Judge Janet Neff in Grand Rapids that overturned the ban. Friday's ruling ordered a stay -- or hold -- of Neff's ruling Monday that allowed “ballot selfies.” Neff had ruled that Michigan's prohibition was a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.
Two of the three judges in the appeals court’s panel joined in granting the stay, in a ruling that declared that overturning the state’s selfie ban just 10 days before the election did not allow sufficient time to discuss “Michigan’s venerable voting protocols.”
The judges cited the state’s 125-year-old law that was “designed to protect the secret ballot by forbidding voters from exposing their marked ballots to others.” The issue raises important First Amendment issues that can be argued fully after the election in further appeals, the opinion said.
Secretary of State Ruth Johnson issued a statement Friday night saying: "Voters can continue to vote with confidence and without the potential for outside influence."
The issue has turned into a nationwide kerfuffle, prompting media to list states that do – and do not – allow ballot box selfies. Entertainer Justin Timberlake drew attention for posting a photo of himself when he voted early at his hometown of Memphis, Tenn., according to a report in USA TODAY. Timberlake, after posting the photo on Instagram and encouraging followers to vote, soon deleted it after learning he’d violated a new law in Tennessee, he said Wednesday on NBC’s “Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.”
With Michigan no longer allowing ballot-box selfies on Nov. 8, the practice appears to now be legal in 19 states.
More than a dozen states prohibit the practice while the law is unclear in at least a dozen others, USA TODAY reported.
The Michigan case was brought by Joel Crookston of Portage, who filed a lawsuit in September against Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, seeking to prevent state election officials from interpreting the Michigan law as meaning that ballot-box selfies were verboten.
In Friday’s ruling, the two-judge majority said that the Secretary of State’s ban on photography at the polls “seems to be a content-neutral regulation that reasonably protects voters’ privacy – and honors a long tradition of protecting the secret ballot.”
However, in a dissenting opinion, a third judge wrote that the ban would “put the administrative interests of the state above the individual rights of the citizens of Michigan.”