ACLU-NM sends letter to all county clerks in New Mexico advising against bans on cell phones and ‘ballot selfies’ in polling places


ALBUQUERQUE, NM – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico sent a letter strongly advising all 33 counties in New Mexico to lift any and all restrictions on cellphones in polling places, including prohibitions against taking or disseminating photos of a voter’s own completed ballot. It has come to the attention of the ACLU of New Mexico that certain counties in New Mexico are banning cellphones from polling places, and several stories in the media have raised collective concerns about the legality of taking ‘ballot selfies.’ After examining the issue, the ACLU of New Mexico asserts that voters in New Mexico have a constitutionally protected right to show other people how they voted.

“This issue goes to the very core of our fundamental right to free speech,” said ACLU of New Mexico Executive Director Peter Simonson. “All voters have a right to share with other people how they voted should they choose to do so. In fact, federal courts have recently ruled that sharing a ‘ballot selfie’ is political speech, a form of speech that enjoys the highest level of protection under the U.S. Constitution.”

In its letter to the counties, the ACLU of New Mexico raises the following objections to phone bans and prohibitions against sharing photos of one’s own completed ballot:

  • Banning phones from polling places/prohibiting ballot selfies effectively deprives voters of the opportunity to show other people how they voted, a type of political speech that lies at the heart of the protections afforded by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
  • Banning phones, which many people constantly carry on their person, from polling places creates a burden that may discourage some individuals from voting altogether. Additionally, some voters may wish to access information through their phone to inform their voting decisions
  • The best way to combat voter intimidation and vote buying is not to abridge the free speech rights of all voters. The best way to fight these crimes is to investigate and prosecute individuals who engage in this illegal activity.

“It is well established that the First Amendment does not allow the government to broadly ban innocent political speech in order to address underlying criminal conduct,” said ACLU of New Mexico Legal Director Eliza Bechtold. “If a person were to use a phone at a polling place to photograph or videotape voters for the purpose of intimidation, that person should be punished for that illegal act—not innocent voters. Innocent voters should never be stripped of their free speech rights wholesale based on the mere possibility that an individual might use their phone to commit a crime.”

A copy of the letter is available at: ltr-to-counties-re-banning-cell-phones-at-polling-places