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MICHIGAN — Subject to court approval, the secretary of state today settled a federal lawsuit challenging Michigan’s restrictions on ballot photography, sometimes known as “ballot selfies.”
Under the settlement, in which both parties to the suit agreed to dismiss the case, voters will be allowed to take a photograph of their own ballot but only while in the voting booth. The agreement doesn’t affect other prohibitions on photography in the area where voting is occurring or sharing ballot images within 100 feet from the polling place (the buffer zone where electioneering is prohibited).
“We reached a resolution that allows voters to have a full opportunity to express themselves, while at the same time ensuring that voters retain the ability to vote in private and without disruption or discomfort,” Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said. “As Michigan’s chief election officer, I am committed to policies that encourage and support voter participation and engagement, along with elections that run smoothly and securely.”
The agreement was made prior to the May election but wasn’t submitted to the court and released publicly until May 8 to prevent confusion during the May 7 election. The Bureau of Elections will revise instructions on ballot photography prior to the Aug. 6 election.
The case, Crookston v. Johnson, was filed in 2016 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan in Grand Rapids. Benson became the defendant in the case upon taking office in January. The state attorney general’s office represented the secretary of state in the case.
“Secretary Benson’s revised instruction regarding ballot photography is uniquely within the secretary’s purview in her role as the state’s chief election officer and supervisor of local election officials,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said. “The revised instruction directly led to settlement of this case. The instruction, which allows limited ballot photography but not ‘ballot selfies’ or other photography, strikes an appropriate balance between the freedom of speech and the need to protect the secrecy of the ballot and the decorum of the polling place.”
Under the settlement agreement, voters will be allowed to take a photograph of their own ballot but only while they are within the voting booth. The settlement doesn’t change existing prohibitions on individuals:
- Taking “selfies” of themselves, either in the voting booth or anywhere within the area where people are voting.
- Taking any other type of photograph within the area where people are voting.
- Sharing images of a voted ballot within 100 feet from the polling place – the buffer zone where electioneering is prohibited.