Ballot selfie legalization clears hurdle in Michigan House

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Joel Crookston of Portage takes a selfie during the House Elections Committee meeting on Dec. 12, 2018.

Lansing — Taking “ballot selfies” would be legal in future Michigan elections under bipartisan legislation approved Wednesday by the House Elections Committee.

The proposal would end Michigan’s longstanding ballot exposure ban by allowing voters to use cameras, including cellphone cameras, to photograph themselves or their ballot in polling places or polling booths.

“The First Amendment right to free speech is primarily for political speech,” said sponsoring Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Wayland. “In today’s day and age, social media is often how people support their candidates and their causes.”

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s office is defending the state’s ballot selfie ban in federal court, arguing it was implemented to prevent vote buying and coercion.

Joel Crookston of Portage, the plaintiff in the ongoing federal lawsuit, took a selfie of himself as he testified in front of the legislative committee. In 2012, Crookston took a picture of his son holding his primary ballot and posted his complete general election ballot on social media without realizing it was against the law, he said.

With less than two weeks left in the lame-duck session, the committee was not expected to vote on the bill. Chairman Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis, said he held a hearing on the measure in hopes of encouraging “a discussion for the future.”

But citing the bipartisan support and planned votes on a separate bill introduced last week, Rep. Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, made a motion to hold a vote on the legislation. It advanced in an 8-0 vote, with one member abstaining.

Current Michigan law generally prohibits voters from showing their ballots to third parties, directing election workers to mark those ballots “rejected for exposure” and not allow the voter to cast another. Willful violations of election law are considered a misdemeanor but are rarely prosecuted.

The ballot selfie legalization proposal now heads to the full House for consideration but remains  a long shot to reach the governor’s desk by the end of the year.  While the committee vote was not planned, Miller said is confident the bill has "broad bipartisan support" and will vouch for it in discussions with House leadership.

"I would go to them out of my own initiative and say, 'This is a good bill, it could legitimately be run,'" Miller said. "I think it's a good thing to do."