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ACLU sues California over ban on ballot box selfies

Civil rights group says state's prohibition on taking selfies at the ballot box violates freedom of speech.

The ACLU believes the ban on ballot selfies violates California residents' First Amendment rights.
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Picture this: the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the state of California, claiming its ban on voters' taking selfies of their ballot violates their freedom of speech.

A lawsuit (PDF) filed Monday in federal court in San Francisco seeks an injunction blocking the state from enforcing the ban. The ACLU is claiming voters' First Amendment rights are being denied from expressing their political positions. A judge is set to hear arguments Wednesday.

The California selfie suit comes about a week after pop star Justin Timberlake made headlines violating Tennessee law with his own ballot selfie and days before the nation heads to the polls on Election Day in an increasingly tight race between Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

Currently 18 states ban the sharing photos of voter ballots, while six other states prohibit taking photos in polling places but allow for photos of mail-in ballots.

Acknowledging that California hasn't previously enforced the ban and recently passed a state law allowing photographs of ballots that doesn't go into effect until next year, the civil rights group argues voters need to clearly know what their rights are. Judges in Indiana and New Hampshire have ruled against bans on selfies in those states, and a lawsuit challenging New York's ban is pending.

"People increasingly use photographs of their marked ballot as a way to express their support for candidates and issues," Michael Risher, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Northern California, said in a statement."This is core political speech at the heart of the First Amendment."

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, said he agrees that the 12-year-old ban is outdated and needs reform.

"While sympathetic to efforts to accelerate the use of this new form of political expression for the November 2016 election, state law currently prohibits it and only a court of law can authorize such a change, especially one proposed on the eve of the election," he said in a statement Tuesday. "In the meantime, voters can still take a selfie of their 'I Voted' sticker.

"My office stands ready to comply with any decision handed down by the court on this matter."