Legislators are considering a bill this winter to clarify that someone voting in Alaska can post an online photo with their ballot. That’s currently not allowed under state law.
Sitka democratic representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins sponsored House bill 7. His legislative intern Alicia Norton testified on the bill’ behalf in front of the House Community and Regional Affairs committee this month.
“HB 7 is a ballot selfie bill which would allow a person to take a photo with their marked ballot and post it online,” Norton explained. “It’s currently illegal in Alaska but it’s not a heavily enforced law. And it’s just changing some language.”
Kreiss Tomkins’ sponsor statement for the bill says ballot selfies have become a common way to express support for a candidate, a cause, or the act of voting itself.
State law prohibits anyone within 200 feet of a polling place trying to persuade another to vote a certain way. It also prohibits a voter from showing their ballot to an election official or any other person. Norton testified that she didn’t know of a case in Alaska where that law’s been enforced.
The law change is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska. The state Department of Law’s Libby Bakalar testified she didn’t see any legal or constitutional problems with the bill. “I do know it’s been a long standing issue for the division of elections,” Bakalar told the committee. “We get calls every election about the ballot selfie issue. I think it’s the division’s position that this would clarify those questions and give the voting public confidence that taking a ballot selfie is a protected first amendment right as it’s been interpreted in the cases that have come out so far and that there isn’t going to be a penalty under existing law for doing that. The statutes were drafted in 1960 obviously a long time before selfies were in the picture.”
Many other states have similar prohibitions on the books but those laws are facing changes around the country Some have been struck down in court challenges. Bakalar explained the thinking behind the prohibition on public display. “The idea behind the initial legislation back in 1960 was to prevent sort of the waving around of one’s voted ballot in order to politically influence other voters who had not yet cast a ballot.”
Kreiss-Tomkins bill has attracted bi-partisan support. Committee member and Kotzebue democrat Dean Westlake like the idea for encouraging people to vote. “This is a great vehicle for trying to get people to go vote,” Westlake said. “Seeing that and you know there’s a lot of hero worship with younger versus older kids when they start to see their heroes going out to the polls they see these things out there in social media perhaps the response will be people like me that are super-voters that show up to every voting thing. And I think this is a very positive thing.”
The bill was moved out of the Community and Regional Affairs Committee, it’s second stop in the House. Up next it heads to House Rules committee.