Federal lawsuit filed by state senator, first-time voter to challenge Colorado ballot picture ban

Posted at 4:39 PM, Oct 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-24 19:58:52-04

DENVER – Colorado voters could in fact get to take selfies with their ballots after all, as long as a federal judge rules on a lawsuit filed Monday by a state senator and first-time voter before Election Day.

Under current Colorado law, people are prohibited from showing their completed ballots to anyone else. The statute, CRS §1-13-712, states that “[n]o voter shall show his ballot after it is prepared for voting to any person in such a way as to reveal its contents.”

Breaking the law could leave violators with a fine of up to $1,000 or a year in jail.

Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey warned last week of the law, which has again come to light as Colorado voters utilize a widespread mail-in ballot system for the first time in a presidential election.

The law was first written in 1891, when it said, “A voter who shall…allow his ballot to be seen by any person, with an apparent intention of letting it be known how he is about to vote…shall be punished by a fine of not less than five nor more than one hundred dollars.”

But the ACLU fired back at Morrissey, calling the law unjust.

And state Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, took the contempt for the law a step further Monday, when he filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court of Colorado seeking to have the law declared unconstitutional and for a federal judge to grant preliminary and permanent injunctions keeping the law from being enforced.

Also listed as a plaintiff in the suit is Littleton resident Scott Romano, who recently turned 18 and will be voting for the first time in November. Romano states in the suit that he will be voting by mail, but wishes to take a picture with his ballot as it’s his first General Election.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman are listed as the defendants in the suit.

The attorneys for Hill and Romano argue that Colorado’s ban on ballot photography violates the First Amendment and point to two court decisions that have come down in the past two years that either struck down or led to preliminary injunctions against laws prohibiting ballot photography in New Hampshire and Indiana.

The attorneys also say there has never been a documented case in Colorado of a ballot photograph being used to commit voter fraud or intimidation.

They argue the Colorado statute “runs roughshod” and “cannot be said to be properly tailored.”

But the Secretary of State’s Office doubled down on its support of the law Monday.

“We believe the current law protects the integrity of the election and protects voters from intimidation or inducement.  In fact, given Colorado’s unique election system and rise of social networking, the prohibition may be more important in Colorado than in other states and may be more timely today than ever,” said Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert in a statement to Denver7.

The lawyers for the plaintiffs ask the judge to deem the state statute unconstitutional, or at the very least issue preliminary and, subsequently, permanent injunctions to stop the law from being enforced.

The next hearing on the filing has yet to be set.


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