Colorado lawyers: Keep ballot selfie ban, it's not enforced

Posted at 3:27 PM, Nov 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-02 15:27:36-04

DENVER (AP) -- A Colorado law that bans ballot selfies is not enforced, so it does not need to be blocked by a federal court, lawyers for the state argued Wednesday in the latest challenge to laws barring voters from snapping the images in the run-up to Election Day.

A federal judge in California will hear arguments in a similar case after the American Civil Liberties Union sued over the state's ban on excited voters taking pictures with their ballots. A legal challenge also is pending in New York.

Judges have struck down bans on the selfies in at least two states, and rules have changed in others. But in Colorado and many other states, taking a picture of your ballot still carries potential fines or jail time.

Some states cite concerns that the photos could harm the integrity of the voting process by encouraging vote-buying or coercion, though some acknowledge there's no evidence to support those fears.

Critics say the photos amount to free speech, with the regulations failing to keep up with technology and confusing voters and election workers. In California, where the ban also is not enforced, the ACLU says voters need clear guidance to prevent confusion that could have a "chilling effect" on their speech in the Nov. 8 election.

In Colorado, U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello said the way the law is written may pose valid constitutional problems over the right to free speech.

But state Assistant Attorney General Matthew Grove said there appears to be no basis for a legal challenge of Colorado's law. "We think that there is nothing to see here," he said.

A Republican state senator, Owen Hill, said Colorado's law should be struck down if no one is being prosecuted for taking pictures with their ballots.

It's not clear if Arguello will rule before next week's election.

There are laws against voters sharing any photo of their ballot in 18 states, while six others bar photography in polling places but allow photos of mail-in ballots, according to a review by The Associated Press.

Colorado's law was enacted more than a century ago to prevent vote-buying. State election officials say they don't know of any cases where people have been charged with disseminating a completed ballot.

But Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams said the ban is important and ballot privacy should be maintained.