Michigan voters are now free to photograph their ballots in the voting booth, under a lawsuit settlement announced Wednesday.
The state’s ban on displaying a completed ballot had been around since 1891. The law was aimed at stopping pressure from political parties, which distributed ballots at that time and compelled people to vote for certain candidates.
Joel Crookston, a voter in the Kalamazoo area, photographed his ballot in 2012 and posted it on social media. Although he wasn’t challenged by election officials, a lawyer warned him that it was illegal. So Crookston sued in 2016 to overturn the ban, arguing that it violated free speech rights.
Under the settlement, voters will be allowed to photograph their marked ballots but still won’t be allowed to photograph themselves in a polling place.
“It’s really about taking a picture, leaving a polling place and posting it online,” said Crookston’s attorney, Stephen Klein. “There haven’t been problems in states that have embraced this. People are just celebrating their vote.”
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson issued a statement calling the settlement fair.
“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,” said Benson, a Democrat who took over the office in January from Republican Ruth Johnson, who had defended the ban.
The state also will pay $90,000 for Crookston’s legal fees.
The Wisconsin Legislature is also considering allowing photos to be taken in the voting booth, as a state Senate committee heard testimony Tuesday from proponents and opponents of the proposed change.
Court rulings on ballot photos have been mixed across the country after several cases sprung up from the 2016 presidential elections. Courts in New Hampshire and Indiana found that laws in those states that prohibit photos were unconstitutional. A New York law, though, was upheld. Photos have been legal in California since 2017.