No Picture-Perfect Vote

For the record: Ms. Poniktera complained that, given the experience of other citizens being faced with arrest for trespassing at a public election, she is herself facing the risk of arrest for doing what, in a more enlightened time, would be laudatory: protecting the process by which citizens make themselves free of tyranny. Photography in elections is just one way citizens have of documenting elections. Documentation ensures transparency, promotes accountability, and creates evidence instead of anecdotes. Documenting the security of the ballots is only one important part of a transparent election. Few voters consider what happens to their ballot after dropping it in a box. Spoiling a ballot is as easy as marking a second vote where only one is permitted. The seals on a piece of cardboard referred to in the article were not as described. These seals are required by state and federal law to remain in place over the memory cards being used with electronic voting machines. The fact that the seals were removed and placed on a piece of cardboard is evidence that security had been breached and the machines tampered with. The first threat of arrest occurred while standing in a driveway at a polling place. The second occurred after the polls had closed. It is this occasion during which a 17 year old poll worker is recorded as telling police that the registrar instructed him to call police if a citizen election observer returned with a camera. Photography at a polling place is permitted by the registrar’s own policies after the polls have closed. Citizens are not required to obtain a license from a government lawyer to exercise free speech rights. In this case, no one debated poll workers over constitutional issues. Citizen Election Observers do not believe that cameras at polling places might scare voters away. They do recognize that some people, however irrational, might find it offensive to have their photographs taken in a public setting. People are under surveillance in an ever-growing number of public places. They still go out in public. The appeal concedes that burdening free speech with some regulation of photography is permissible, but only if it is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest such as preventing fraud or voter intimidation, and preserving the secrecy of a ballot. Having a pleasant experience at the polls is not a compelling state interest. If the registrar’s procedures and training were adequate, the lawsuit filed would not have been necessary. The quote attributed to Stalin expresses the sentiment among dictators that it is enough to hold an election, even if it is just theater, to keep citizens sullen but not hostile to authorities. Without transparency and the ability to verify the results, our elections are no better than theater.
— March 11, 2010 6:15 p.m.

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