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What you need to know for 03/30/2017

State rules set for selfies taken while voting

2016 Presidential election

State rules set for selfies taken while voting

If you're thinking of taking a selfie while voting Tuesday, you can. But a federal court ruling in N
State rules set for selfies taken while voting
First time voter Maryam Arshad, 18, finishes casting her vote in the April primary. A federal court ruling in New York City on Thursday set the ground rules for taking selfies while voting.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

If you're thinking of taking a selfie while voting Tuesday, you can. But a federal court ruling in New York City on Thursday set the ground rules.

Selfies are allowed as long as they do not show the completed ballot or how a person voted.

Voters can take pictures of themselves voting, or even of a blank ballot, but taking - and especially distributing - a picture of a completed ballot breaks state law.

[Ballot selfie ban protects sanctity of voting]

"Photography is generally allowed at poll sites, as long as it is not disruptive and does not invade voter privacy," said John Conklin, a spokesman for the state Board of Elections in Albany. "If someone complains, the poll workers decide what is 'disruptive' and can ask them to stop or remove someone who is disturbing other voters."

The ruling upholds the existing New York law. A half-dozen states around the country allow "ballot selfies.”

Most states allow no photography at all at polling locations.

State Election Law written in 1890 says it is a misdemeanor crime for a voter to show their ballot after it has been filled out to anyone - a law the Thursday court ruling noted is grounded in a long history of political parties trying to bribe, coerce or otherwise influence individual voters.

"That means a voter is allowed to take a photo in a poll site, as long as a completed ballot is not in view - and you’re not disturbing other voters," Conklin said.

The lawsuit filed in New York City was an attempt to declare the anti-selfie law unconstitutional, as a violation of the First Amendment, on the grounds that displaying a ballot is a form of personal expression.

"Our lawyers defended the statute on its merits and because changing the rules so close to Election Day would cause confusion and havoc in the poll sites," Conklin said.

Schenectady County Democratic Elections Commissioner Amy Hild said the ruling means that nothing has changed for those who work at the polls to oversee voting.

"Cellphones have been around a long time," she said. "There are no pictures of the completed ballot."

As to what would happen if somebody tried to Tweet or Instagram their finished ballot, "That's a bit of uncharted territory," said Darlene Harris, the county's Republican commissioner. "We would advise them that that's not allowable pursuant to state law."

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, swilliams@dailygazette.net or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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