A New Hampshire law that bans the sharing of images of marked election ballots over social media compromises the right of free political speech in the state, according to a lawsuit filed on Friday challenging the prohibition on “ballot selfies.”
The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union is seeking to block the law, which took effect on Sept. 1, prohibiting sharing such images over Twitter, Facebook or any other online or conventional means.
Two of the plaintiffs are being investigated by the Office of the New Hampshire Secretary of State for violating the law during the Sept. 9 primary election, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in federal district court in Concord.
One of the plaintiffs, Andrew Langlois, posted a picture on Facebook that showed he wrote in “Akira,” the name of his dog, as his Republican choice for U.S. Senate.
“Mr. Langlois’ vote and the publication of his ballot on social media were acts of protest against his choices for Senate — each of whom he disapproved,” the NHCLU said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
“Political speech is essential to a functioning democracy,” said NHCLU staff attorney Gilles Bissonnette. “The First Amendment does not allow the state to, as it is doing here, broadly ban innocent political speech with the hope that such a sweeping ban will address underlying criminal conduct.”
Violating the law is punishable by up to a $1,000 fine.
The lawsuit, which names New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner as the defendant, seeks an injunction on the law, although the NHCLU said it does not expect the law to be blocked before national and state elections on Nov. 4.
Gardner did not return a call for comment on Friday.
The “ballot selfie” law, as it has become popularly known, was meant to update a century-old law against vote rigging. In the late 1800s, vote buying was widespread and showing a marked ballot was a way to redeem compensation, often in the form of cash or liquor.
Similar laws against displaying marked ballots are on the books in several other states.
The New Hampshire law is aimed at bringing the restriction up to date in an era when many people have smartphone cameras and want to share experiences instantly through social media.
European authorities have also discouraged “selfies” at polling places out of concern they may violate ballot secrecy regulations.
(Reporting by Ted Siefer; Editing by Frank McGurty and Eric Beech)