HELENA — Montana voters can take “ballot selfies” at polling places on Election Day as long as they aren’t being disruptive or are coerced into doing so, the state’s campaign and elections regulator has ruled.
The advisory opinion by the state Office of the Commissioner of Political Practices aims to clear up confusion among county election officials as to whether people can share photographs of their marked ballots taken at the voting booth.
“Some were allowing it and some were not,” commissioner’s attorney Jaime MacNaughton said Wednesday. “That’s why they asked for clarification.”
Audrey McCue, the Lewis and Clark County elections supervisor who requested the opinion, said ballot selfies are an emerging issue that officials want to settle so that elections are run uniformly across the state.
“If it’s allowed without disturbing the process, I think everyone will be on board with it,’ she said.
Friday’s advisory opinion extends a 2011 ruling by the commissioner’s office that voters may share their marked absentee ballots on social media. That ruling stemmed from a challenge to a state lawmaker who posted his absentee ballot on Facebook.
A state law prohibits voters from showing their ballots to anyone and is meant to prevent voter intimidation or coercion. The 2011 commissioner’s ruling said that law was meant to cover conduct at polling places, and not absentee ballots.
But MacNaughton wrote in Friday’s opinion that the 2011 commissioner’s decision set a precedent that extends beyond absentee ballots: Voters may voluntarily take photos of themselves with their ballots to demonstrate their civic engagement or to encourage others to vote.
If an absentee voter can post a ballot selfie without breaking the law, then voters on Election Day must be allowed the same right of expression, MacNaughton wrote.
“The Commissioner continues the standing interpretation of the law to allow individuals to voluntarily take a photograph of themselves with their ballot wherever they are, and to share it with whomsoever they chose,” the advisory opinion reads.
Conditions to that legal opinion include that the photography must not be disruptive at the polling place and that the voters aren’t being intimidated or coerced into sharing their ballots.
Commissioner Jeff Mangan endorsed the opinion, which has the effect of law unless a court overturns it.
Across the nation, court rulings on ballot selfies have been mixed after several cases sprung up from the 2016 presidential elections. Courts in New Hampshire and Indiana found that laws in those states that prohibit ballot selfies were unconstitutional.
But in Michigan and New York, state laws banning ballot selfies at polling places were upheld.