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ACLU files federal suit to stop NH's 'ballot selfie' publishing law

BY GARRY RAYNO
State House Bureau

October 31. 2014 2:33PM


CONCORD — A new state law prohibiting people from posting a photo of a marked ballot on Facebook or other social media was challenged in federal court today by the American Civil Liberties Union’s New Hampshire affiliate.

The group claims the law violates the constitutional protection of both free and political speech. In its suit filed in US District Court in Concord, the group seeks to bar the state from enforcing the law.

The legislature this year approved the law , which adds social media to a century-old statute prohibiting a voter from intentionally showing a completed ballot to anyone.

The law goes back to the 1880s, when vote buying was rampant, said Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan earlier this year.

But ACLU staff attorney Gilles Bissonnette said the law is a too-broad attempt to address voter bribery and vote buying and instead essentially bans pure political speech.

“Fundamentally the problem with this law is it bars pure political speech well outside the polling place for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the state’s reasons for why the law is purportedly necessary: addressing vote buying and voter coercion,” Bissonette said. “What this law does is ban political speech that has no nexus to those stated interests and it is our position the state has no interest – let alone a compelling one – to ban pure political speech that is unrelated to vote buying or voter coercion.”

After the primary election, several people who posted their marked ballots on social media were called by investigators at the Attorney General’s Office.

Three of those people, Rep. Leon Rideout, R-Lancaster, former law enforcement officer Andrew Langlois of Berlin and Manchester attorney Brandon D. Ross – currently running for a House seat – are plaintiff for the suit.

Rideout, posted his completed ballot to show his enthusiasm for his House candidacy, according to the suit, not to attempt vote buying or coercion.

Similarly, Langlois wrote in the name of his recently deceased dog for U.S. Senate to show his disappointment with his choice of candidates.

Ross posted his ballot to protest the law, according to the suit.

“At the end of the day, what this law is about is protected political speech and the state, without any justification, is banning it,” Bissonette said.

The suit notes that both free and political speech are constitutionally protected but the law makes no exceptions.

Instead of restricting political speech, the state should investigate and prosecute vote-buying and voter coercion, which already are illegal under state law, he said.

“Unfortunately what this law does is deem illegal, for example, the speech of an 18-year-old woman who posts her ballot out of excitement for voting for the first time in an election,” Bissonette said.

If the law is allowed to stand, the group argues, future political speech in New Hampshire not related to voter corruption will be chilled in light of the Attorney General’s Office investigation after the primaries.

The Attorney General is likely to continue to enforce the law during and after Tuesday’s general election, the suit contends.

The suit asks the federal court to stop the state from enforcing the law both for the upcoming election and permanently.

The new law went into effect Sept. 1, just before the Sept. 9 primary.

The bill ran into some opposition in the House but eventually passed on a 198-96 vote, sailed through the Senate and was signed by the governor in June.

A violation of the law may result in a fine of up to $1,000.

grayno@unionleader.com


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