Lawsuit seeks to block New York ban on 'ballot selfies'

NEW YORK, N.Y. – A New York state law that makes it a misdemeanour to show a marked election ballot to others is unconstitutional and a violation of the First Amendment, according to a lawsuit brought as people increasingly look for ways to express their political opinions over the internet.

The lawsuit carrying the names of three New York voters was filed Wednesday in Manhattan federal court. It seeks to have the law banning so-called “ballot selfies” thrown out.

The lawsuit said publishing a marked ballot on social media can be a powerful form of political expression and a way of adding credibility to claims of political support for various candidates and ballot issues.

Attorney Leo Glickman said the lawsuit is consistent with claims made in Michigan, Indiana and New Hampshire, where similar laws have been struck down.

Glickman, a Brooklyn-based civil rights lawyer, said the plaintiffs are political activists.

“It shouldn’t be against the law,” he said. “Social media is what brought these plaintiffs together with me. We have mutual friends who have been deterred from doing what they would like to do and how they would like to express their opinion.”

The New York attorney general’s office declined comment.

U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel has set a hearing for Tuesday, though he questioned Wednesday why the lawsuit wasn’t brought sooner so there would be more time to explore legal issues before the Nov. 8 election.

“I don’t blame him,” Glickman said. “We are asking a lot of the courts to do something in a short period of time.”

The lawyer said he understands voters might not want everyone walking around taking pictures and holding up lines to vote.

But he added that inside a voting booth, “It does seem to me pretty easy to take a very discreet photograph.”

In New York state, it is a misdemeanour punishable by fines up to $1,000 and one year imprisonment for showing anyone a filled-out ballot, the lawsuit noted.

A story by The Associated Press on Wednesday showed that ballot selfies are legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia, illegal in 17 states and the legal status is mixed or unclear in the rest.