MADISON — Wisconsin voters could legally take selfies with their marked election ballots under a proposal that a state Senate committee considered Tuesday.
Supporters of the measure called the current ban archaic, especially in an era in which voters are increasingly posting pictures of themselves with their marked ballots on Instagram and Facebook. But county election clerks came out against the change, warning that it could have unintended consequences.
"There's a really strong concern that this opens the door to undoing the secrecy of the ballot," Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell testified. "It's a real concern that as it becomes commonplace to show your ballot, it's going to be easier to coerce others to show their ballots."
He and Brown County Clerk Sandy Juno testified against the measure, which is also opposed by the Wisconsin County Clerk Association.
The clerks warned that making it commonplace to show a marked ballot could lead to employers, unions or others forcing people to prove they voted a certain way to receive a benefit or avoid being punished. They also voiced concern about how people legally taking photos in a polling location could infringe on the confidentiality rights of other voters.
"We have no problem with someone telling everyone how they voted," said Lisa Tollefson, Rock County Clerk, in written testimony. "We just do not want to open the door to vote-selling and infringe on the right of other voters."
Those in charge of polling places currently have the authority to maintain order and stop any behavior that's causing a disruption, and that would continue to be true even if taking pictures of marked ballots was decriminalized, said Wisconsin Elections Commission interim administrator Meagan Wolfe in written testimony.
Committee chair Sen. Kathy Bernier, a Republican from Chippewa Falls, dismissed concerns, citing existing laws against election bribery.
Bill sponsor Sen. Dave Craig, a Republican from Big Bend, said the prohibition in current law is a violation of political free speech rights and that Wisconsin should change it before a successful constitutional challenge.
Court rulings on ballot selfies 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 ballot selfies were unconstitutional.
Craig noted that the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case out of New Hampshire after that state's law was found to be unconstitutional.
However, in Michigan and New York, state laws banning ballot selfies at polling places were upheld.
Wisconsin is one of 18 states with a law barring the showing of a completed ballot, but it is rarely enforced.
Because of court decisions that found laws like Wisconsin's to be unconstitutional, the state Elections Commission no longer advises that there is a blanket prohibition against a voter taking a photo of their marked ballot or showing it to any other person, Wolfe said.