Colorado is one of a handful of states that has a law on the book that makes it a misdemeanor to reveal the contents of your ballot. Today, the Denver District Attorney issued a statement to voters in his jurisdiction that reminded people of this law.
“Colorado is one of many states that ban a ballot selfie. The law, found at §1-13-712 in the Colorado Revised Statutes, states that, ‘No voter shall show his ballot after it is prepared for voting to any person in such a way as to reveal its contents.’ It is a misdemeanor offense.”
The concept of wanting to express to your friends and family whom you voted for is a popular trend in our technological age.
From The Denver Post:
Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey issued a reminder Thursday that it’s illegal in Colorado to show your election ballot to other people and warned that state law makes it illegal to post ballot selfies on social media.
But the ACLU of Colorado is arguing that Morrissey is wrong.
Courts in Indiana and New Hampshire recently upheld individuals’ rights to post ballot selfies, saying it’s a First Amendment right to free speech, said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU of Colorado.
And seven other states have legislation that specifically allows people to take their pictures with their ballots and post them on social media, Silverstein said.
“We’re asking him to retract his statement,” Silverstein said. “It’s a threat of prosecution as far as I can tell.”
This is a fight that many people are willing to have along with the ACLU. The 1st Amendment is quite clear that Freedom of Speech and Expression apply to your right to vote. Free Expression of ideas and voting are fundamental principles that are followed in this country.
While there is no recollection of any prosecution ever taking place in the past there has to be a reason that the Denver D.A. decided to issue this statement. It appears that he is threatening prosecution for citizens of Denver that post their completed ballot online.
Caryn Ann Harlos, a prominent Libertarian activist in Colorado, is preparing a lawsuit if the Colorado Attorney General does not promise not to prosecute voters in Colorado over this outdated, unconstitutional law.
The following is an excerpt from the letter sent to the Attorney General of Colorado:
Dear Attorney General Coffman and District Attorney Morrissey,
Caryn Ann Harlos has retained FRANK & SALAHUDDIN LLC in order to ask your offices to publicly declare that C.R.S. § 1-13-712 is unconstitutional and that your office will not enforce it. 1 Among other prohibitions, this statute makes it illegal for a person to take a photograph of his or her ballot and share this photograph on social media. It also bars people from discussing who they voted for. This statute creates serious criminal penalties for engaging in political speech. There is no question that it violates the First Amendment.
Ms. Harlos is the Communications Director of the Libertarian Party of Colorado, as well as the Regional Representative for Western United States on the Libertarian National Committee. In her role as Communications Director, Ms. Harlos would like to make and publish a video of herself filling out her ballot while describing why she is voting for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s candidate for President. As the Communications Director for a third party, it is vital to her party’s future the she be allowed to publicize her vote on social media in order to encourage others to vote for her party’s candidates in this and future elections. In short, Ms. Harlos seeks to engage in essential political speech. Prosecuting her for doing so would be blatantly unconstitutional.
Speaking with Ms. Harlos, we asked her motivation behind this threat of a lawsuit:
“It is a clear infringement on First Amendment protections on free speech with political speech being one of the most basic of free speech rights that this country was founded upon. The state cannot make a dragnet type law which punishes 99.99% of innocent activity in order to prevent some tiny percentage of wrongdoing in order to make it more convenient on them. If they are concerned about vote buying or coercion let them prosecute that and prove their case. The same mindset is what is behind the NSA and many other draconian state practices.”
We also asked Ms. Harlo what she thought the motivation of the D.A. was by issuing this threat:
The state hates to admit its wrong, even when the law is blatantly horrible. It is on the books, so they take the power. It is human nature. I hope in this case the better side of reasonableness will prevail.
We will continue to follow this story as it unfolds. Our basic rights are precious and need to be protected against an abusive government that attacks the fundamental rights we have as citizens in this country.