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Our long national nightmare that has been this election cycle is nearly over. Election day is approaching and early voting has begun, which means you’ve probably already seen your social media connections happily and proudly posting about their votes. This is a good thing for democracy, in my opinion, as celebrations of participation can only encourage others to participate as well. Yet not everyone is on board with this social media pride. We had already discussed New Hampshire’s law against so-called ballot selfies, in which people post their completed voting ballots to social media. That law was struck down as unconstitutional, because of its restriction on the most important form of speech, political speech.
But, as you may know, New Hampshire isn’t the only state to pass such a law — in fact lots of states have them, including New York. As in other states, New York’s is being challenged in federal court at present. Three voters sued in October to get enforcement of the law blocked. The judge in the case, however, has refused to issue such an order, claiming that to do so would sow confusion on election day.
U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel in Manhattan said it would “wreak havoc on election-day logistics” to issue a preliminary injunction against the law, which prohibits the display of “ballot selfies.” “The public’s interest in orderly elections outweighs the plaintiffs’ interest in taking and posting ballot selfies,” though they remained free to express their political message through “other powerful means,” Castel wrote.
It’s an odd bit of reasoning. What Castel is saying is that ordering non-enforcement of this law — doing nothing, in other words — would create more havoc than actually tasking law enforcement with enforcing it. How is that remotely possible? Doing nothing cannot possibly create more problems than doing something. Doing nothing is doing nothing, after all. What havoc could come from local law enforcement sitting idly by as people proudly share that they voted on social media?
When one takes into account that this is a matter of free political speech, so too does Castel’s suggestion that the public benefit outweigh’s those of the plaintiff’s seem odd. The public is the one that would benefit from not enforcing a law that has had a similar version of it already declared unconstitutional in another state. Other states have had the courts all over the map on this question, with California also seeing a refusal to stop enforcement of its ballot selfie law, while states like Indiana and New Hampshire have had those laws struck down.
It seems this may be headed for the Supreme Court, where we’ll hopefully have a full roster of justices ready to make a ruling on selfies at the ballot box.