voting booth

FILE (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Ballot Photos Allowed In Michigan Voting Booths Under Settlement

May 08, 2019 - 10:48 am
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(WWJ) Michigan voters will be allowed to take photos of their ballots after the Secretary of State settled a federal lawsuit challenging Michigan’s restrictions.

Under the settlement, which is subject to court approval, both parties to the suit agreed to dismiss the case, according to a news release out Wednesday by the Secretary of State. 

Under the new rules, Michigan voters will be allowed to take a photograph of their own ballots only, and only while still in the voting booth. Voters are still not permitted take a photo of themselves or of other people in a polling place.

The settlement doesn’t change existing prohibitions, which include:

  • Taking “selfies” of themselves, either in the voting booth or anywhere within the area where people are voting.
  • Taking any other type of photograph within the area where people are voting.
  • Sharing images of a voted ballot within 100 feet from the polling place – the buffer zone where electioneering is prohibited.

“We reached a resolution that allows voters to have a full opportunity to express themselves, while at the same time ensuring that voters retain the ability to vote in private and without disruption or discomfort,” Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said, in a media release.  “As Michigan’s chief election officer, I am committed to policies that encourage and support voter participation and engagement, along with elections that run smoothly and securely.”

The agreement was made prior to the May election but wasn’t submitted to the court and released publicly until May 8 to prevent confusion during the May 7 election, officials said.

The legality of what some call "ballot selfies" was first raised in 2016 as a First Amendment issue by Portage, Michigan resident Joel Crookston, who'd snapped a pic of his ballot back in 2012. Although no action was taken against him, Crookston filed a lawsuit against the state after learning the picture could get him in trouble. 

The case, Crookston v. Johnson, was filed in 2016 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan in Grand Rapids. Benson became the defendant in the case upon taking office in January, with the AG's office representing her in the case.

State election officials have said the ban on exposing completed ballots, which has been in place in Michigan since 1891, was intended to protect the integrity of the election.

The Bureau of Elections will revise instructions on ballot photography prior to the Aug. 6 election.

“Secretary Benson’s revised instruction regarding ballot photography is uniquely within the secretary’s purview in her role as the state’s chief election officer and supervisor of local election officials,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said. “The revised instruction directly led to settlement of this case. The instruction, which allows limited ballot photography but not ‘ballot selfies’ or other photography, strikes an appropriate balance between the freedom of speech and the need to protect the secrecy of the ballot and the decorum of the polling place.”