TALLAHASSEE -- People want to take “selfies” everywhere they go, which includes the voting booth. However, by law, Florida residents cannot take selfies when they vote.
Florida law states, “no photography is permitted in the polling room or early voting area.”
Some people want to take selfies in the voting booth showing their completed ballot as a way to encourage their Facebook friends or Instagram followers to get out and vote. Sometimes they want to encourage voting for a particular candidate. Millennials, in particular, may use the “ballot selfie” as a form of peer pressure, urging friends to get out and vote.
“Ballot selfies” are common in some places. California allows selfies in the voting booth. However, Florida and 25 other states prohibit ballot selfies.
In September, a New Hampshire appeals court concluded that banning selfies violates the right to free speech. The court opined, “New Hampshire may not impose such a broad restriction on speech by banning ballot selfies in order to combat an unsubstantiated and hypothetical danger. We repeat the old adage: ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’”
The issue arose in 2014 when the state investigated three New Hampshire voters who took selfies in the voting booth. The voters filed suit in federal court, arguing that New Hampshire law prohibiting photography in the voting booth actually prohibited free speech.
The issue with photography in the voting booth arose because New Hampshire was concerned about vote buying, which is when someone is paid for casting a vote and isn't paid until a verifying selfie was posted.
In August 2015, U.S. District Judge Paul Barbadoro, a George H.W. Bush appointee, stated that the New Hampshire law was a “content-based restriction on speech because it requires regulators to examine the content of the speech to determine whether it includes impermissible subject matter.”
The New Hampshire appeals court agreed with the lower court that photography in the voting booth is a free speech issue. Michael D. Martinez, a political science professor from the University of Florida, explained that a voter who takes a selfie and posts it on his or her social network page is exercising his or her free speech.
"Social media has been around for a few election cycles now and there’s no demonstration that anybody has used this for vote buying," Martinez told the Florida Record.
The American Civil Liberties Union was one of the plaintiffs in the New Hampshire lawsuit. The organization asserts that if someone wants to take a photo of their ballot as a political act, they have a right to do so.
Martinez said that ballot selfies might encourage millennials to vote.
“It might actually have a modest effect. There is some research that shows, based on a Facebook experiment, that if a person says that they’ve voted, it will have a very modest, but still positive, effect on the likelihood that people in their social media network will vote. If they do the same thing, that effect is multiplied in the population.”
Martinez said he thinks the Florida state law has the chance to be changed.
“If it does, it’s probably going to be a judicial decision, like the decision in the First Circuit. It’s also possible that New Hampshire will appeal this to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court will make a decision based on that," he said.
It’s unlikely this will be an issue in the 2016 presidential race though, he said.
"Only because we’re two weeks out,” Martinez said.