'Ballot Selfies' Clash With The Sanctity Of Secret Polling : All Tech Considered New Hampshire is the first state to outlaw voting booth selfies. Some call the ban unconstitutional and are challenging it in court. Others argue selfies compromise privacy and enable voter coercion.
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'Ballot Selfies' Clash With The Sanctity Of Secret Polling

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'Ballot Selfies' Clash With The Sanctity Of Secret Polling

'Ballot Selfies' Clash With The Sanctity Of Secret Polling

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

We have, for better or worse, embraced the selfie. From Pope Francis to President Obama to the kid down the block, those little pictures on cellphones are ubiquitous. But there are still some places where taking photos of yourself remains controversial, like the voting booth. New Hampshire Public Radio's Josh Rogers reports on the legal battle over ballot selfies in the state that holds the first presidential primary.

JOSH ROGERS, BYLINE: This may be a fight of the digital age, but according to New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, it involves an old American ideal - the sanctity of the secret ballot.

BILL GARDNER: If somebody wants to go out and say that they voted for this person or that person, they can do it. They can do it. But that ballot is sacred.

ROGERS: Gardner's been New Hampshire's top election official since 1976. To say he views ballot selfies with suspicion would be an understatement. He backed a change in law last year that made New Hampshire the first state to ban them explicitly. And he says allowing people to show a marked ballot - actual proof of how they voted - opens the door to voter coercion or vote buying. Gardner insists anything that compromises privacy in the ballot booth is a step in a very, very dark direction.

GARDNER: I have a copy of the last ballot that was used when Saddam Hussein was elected. And that ballot identified who the person was. Hitler did the same thing in Austria.

BRANDON ROSS: I think if the secretary of state wants to bring up Hitler, I think they should just quit now. They lose. That's absurd.

ROGERS: Brandon Ross, a libertarian-leaning patent lawyer, is one of three plaintiffs suing in federal court to strike down New Hampshire's ballot selfie ban. He says New Hampshire's law, which can fine people a thousand dollars for sharing an image of their ballot, goes way too far.

ROSS: It's like a picture you can never show without breaking the law. It's just a banned photograph. That's wildly unconstitutional. It's a core part of our democratic process is being able to communicate who you vote for. This is 2015 now. People interact with social media constantly.

ROGERS: Which raises the question, could any ballot selfie ban be enforceable? Jeff Hermes is an attorney with the Media Law Resource Center in New York.

JEFF HERMES: There's no way to do it comprehensively. Of course, there are many laws which are honored more in the breech than are actually enforced. I mean, speeding laws are a great example of that.

ROGERS: New Hampshire's attorney general is now investigating four voters for posting ballot selfies. A report by the Digital Media Law Project found most states have some sort of prohibition against sharing marked ballots. Most have been on the books for years and, as in New Hampshire, their aim was to fight corruption. Gilles Bissonnette with the New Hampshire ACLU represents people challenging New Hampshire's law. He says everybody should want clean elections, but banning selfies isn't the way to achieve them.

GILLES BISSONNETTE: The more tailored approach here would be to aggressively investigate and prosecute vote buying and to aggressively investigate and prosecute vote bribery. But I think the question here is whether this law appropriately addresses those interests.

ROGERS: This case is scheduled for trial next month. In the meantime, bills to repeal New Hampshire's selfie prohibition are pending at the statehouse. Action on either front could make the first state to impose a ballot selfie ban the first state to get rid of one. For NPR News, I'm Josh Rogers in Concord, N.H.

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