The Pillar of Law Institute filed a lawsuit on behalf of Michigan voter Joel Crookston in federal court today, challenging state laws and orders from Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson that prohibit camera use in voting booths and polling places. Together, these rules threaten Crookston and all Michigan voters with forfeiting their votes, fines and imprisonment for photographing their own marked ballots, a practice known as taking a “ballot selfie.”
“Many voters take ballot selfies and post them to social media sites like Facebook on election day, and it is a powerful form of free speech,” said Stephen Klein, Pillar attorney and lead counsel in the case. “Instead of just telling people whom they voted for, voters can actually prove whom they voted for—there’s just no other way to do that so convincingly. But the Secretary of State prohibits this. This is not just a case against silly rules; it’s a case against unconstitutional censorship.”
In the 2012 election, Crookston unknowingly broke Michigan law by photographing his write-in vote for a friend for Michigan State University trustee and posting the photo on Facebook.
Since then, many other Michigan voters have taken and posted ballot selfies to numerous social media platforms. The penalties call for forfeiting one’s vote, up to a $500 fine and 90 days in jail.
“It is important to maintain order on election day, and to protect the integrity of other people’s ballots, and this case does not threaten the state’s ability to do that,” said Klein. “Crookston’s lawsuit simply calls for recognition that the photography restrictions need to be narrower and not threaten people with jail time for photographing and publishing their own ballots.”
The lawsuit also challenges the Secretary’s general photography ban in polling places, arguing that by treating “credentialed media” differently from voters the law violates free speech and equal protection under the Constitution.
“A television station can film people voting, but Crookston and other voters are, again, threatened with fines and imprisonment for taking a simple selfie while waiting in line,” said Klein. “The rules cannot be discriminate like this, especially when they prohibit important political speech.”
Crookston intends to seek a preliminary injunction in the case.
The Pillar of Law Institute is a nonprofit public interest law firm. Located in Washington, DC, Pillar represents citizens nationwide against unconstitutional censorship of political speech. Crookston is represented by the Pillar, joined by local counsel Patrick Jaicomo of the law firm Miller Johnson.