What do Bill Phillips, of Nashua, NH., and Justin Timberlake (yes, that Timberlake) of Memphis, TN have in common? Both voted early and both indulged by taking a selfie with their ballot and sharing it on social media. One voter was breaking the law.
Voting is handled by states and regulated by state law, not federal rules. In New Hampshire is it currently legal to snap a selfie with ballot; in Tennessee, cameras are outlawed in voting centers.
So Timberlake who lives in California but is still registered to vote in Memphis was technically breaking the law when he posted, “Hey YOU. I just flew in from LA to Memphis to #rockthevote. Choose to have a voice. If you don’t, we can’t HEAR YOU!”
Phillips did not violate state law because the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a lower court’s ruling that New Hampshire’s ballot selfie ban was unconstitutional.
For most voters, a ballot selfie is motivated by a desire to share political views or encourage others to vote. Many are too young to remember that in decades past, vote buying was a major concern. Many states tried to address it by banning cameras at the polls. Such bans failed to consider the growing popularity of social media.
Currently, a number of states clearly allow selfies at the polls; another dozen and a half ban it outright. In the remaining states, the law’s view is more complicated. A recent Associated Press survey of all 50 states shows the varying states and their restrictions—if any.
What we are witnessing is a clash between freedom of political speech—protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—and the desire for proper elections that protect the sanctity of the voting booth. It’s a conflict unlikely to be settled by Election Day.
Timberlake can rest easy. Officials in Tennessee say they have no plans to pursue any legal charges against him citing limited resources. However, law enforcement officials could frown on your selfie unless you live in a permissive state. Check the AP map to see where you stand.