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Bay Area lawmaker wants to legalize ‘ballot selfies’

A Bay Area lawmaker will introduce a bill making it legal for Californians to take “selfies” of their voting ballots and post them on social media.

Marc LevineAssemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, said it’s good for voters to share their civic participation. He’ll introduce his bill when the Legislature returns to session in January.

“As voters go to the polls this week, I encourage them to declare their participation in the elections process,” he said in a news release. “California law should encourage voter pride, political speech, and civic engagement through social media. Laws prohibiting this activity were written before sharing digital images over the internet was ubiquitous. It is time to update those laws to reflect technology and the world in which we now live.”

For now, section 14291 of the state Elections Code says that “after the ballot is marked, a voter shall not show it to any person in such a way as to reveal its contents.” Anyone photographic their ballot and posting that photo on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or other social media would be in violation.

But Levine notes that a recent federal district court decision indicates this state law might be an unconstitutional denial of voters’ First Amendment free speech rights. The court ruled that a New Hampshire law banning disclosure of one’s ballot – and levying fines of up to $1,000 – is unconstitutional, finding that the ballot selfie is a form of political speech that can be restricted only by meeting the highest standard of constitutional scrutiny.

“The ballot selfie is protected political speech,” Levine said Monday. “Elections officials must demonstrate public harm through nefarious use of ballot selfies before denying voters their First Amendment rights. I encourage California voters to exercise their right to political speech.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.