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Court overturns New Hampshire ban on ballot selfies

Engadget logo Engadget 29/09/2016 Nick Summers
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In the state of New Hampshire, proud voters can legally snap a selfie after filling out their ballot paper. Hurray! As NBC News reports, the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston has upheld a lower court ruling which concluded the state-wide ban was unfair. Since 2014, legislation has made it illegal for citizens to photograph and share their ballot markings on social media. According to politicians, the law was intended to combat potential vote-buying schemes -- the argument being that shady individuals could use them to track and verify influenced votes.

While the court accepted this reasoning, it felt there was a "substantial mismatch between New Hampshire's objectives and ballot-selfie prohibition." The three-judge panel ultimately concluded that "the restrictions on speech" were "antithetical to democratic values." Put another way, the group felt the ban was violating the First Amendment.

The decision will please Snapchat (sorry, Snap Inc.), which gave the following statement in April: "A ballot selfie—like a campaign button—is a way to express support for or against a cause or a candidate. And because it is tangible proof of how a voter has voted, a ballot selfie is a uniquely powerful form of political expression. It proves that the voter's stated political convictions are not just idle talk. Not only that, but ballot selfies and other digital expressions of civic engagement encourage others to vote—particularly younger voters who have historically low turnout rates."

Ballot selfies are a divisive subject in the US. Some states, such as Florida and Texas, expressly forbid the practice in law. Others, including Hawaii, Washington and New Jersey, have unclear legislation, meaning voters have to judge for themselves whether a well-timed selfie is unwise. Yesterday's ruling only affects New Hampshire, but maybe, just maybe, it can cause a domino effect within other states. A universal decision would give the public some much-needed clarity -- it's frustrating, after all, if you see a photo in your feed, only to discover that your own state prohibits it.

NBC News, Slate

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