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Monday, August 31, 2015

Why Ballot Selfies Are A Terrible Idea For Workers

Indiana is facing a free speech suit relating to a law they passed making it a crime to take a photo of yourself with your completed ballot. While the law is clearly overreaching and punishes the wrong people, I think the folks saying there is no risk of voter coercion are off the mark.

In the anti-employee climate that exists now, it's only a matter of time before employers start demanding proof of how you voted. Banning the practice of ballot selfies is one way to stop this practice before it starts. Think I'm overreacting? Remember these?

Your employer really, really wants to be able to tell you how to vote. If voter selfies are allowed, what's to stop these employers from demanding you produce your selfie before clocking in on election day? And what's to stop them from firing you if you didn't vote the right way?

Well, there are some laws in some, but not all, states protecting you from discrimination based on political affiliation. There are also some states with a bit of protection for voters:
  • Michigan prohibits direct or indirect threats against employees for the purpose of influencing their vote. It also prohibits tracking of political activity.
  • Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky ban employers from posting or handing out notices threatening to shut down or lay off workers if a particular candidate is elected.
  • Oregon makes it illegal to threaten loss of employment in order to influence the way someone votes. 
  • Washington State makes it illegal to retaliate against employees for failing to support a candidate, ballot position or political party.
  • In California, Colorado, New York, North Dakota and Louisiana it's illegal to retaliate against an employee for their off-duty participation in politics or political campaigns.
  • In Florida, it's a felony to "discharge or threaten to discharge any employee in his or her service for voting or not voting in any election, state, county, or municipal, for any candidate or measure submitted to a vote of the people."
Some counties and municipalities have additional protections for voters, but the one thing that doesn't protect you, unless you work for government, is the First Amendment. You have no free speech rights if you work for a private employer. The First Amendment only applies to government action.

I think you should never take a ballot selfie for this reason. It's a terrible trend that will only be abused by unscrupulous employers if it continues. What I think the laws banning them got wrong are that they are targeting the voters rather than those who may coerce them. 

I'd propose a very simple law: make it a felony to require anyone to disclose whether they voted or for whom they voted in order to continue their employment, their housing or their access to any public accommodation. I'd go one step further and make it illegal for employers to discriminate against any employee for voting, not voting, for the way they voted, and for supporting or not supporting any candidate or party. 

Punishing voters for their selfies is probably a First Amendment violation, but punishing coercion should be the law.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Very good points, especially with the thought that laws should be focused on the source...rather than the actual person taking the selfie.


I appreciate your comments and general questions but this isn't the place to ask confidential legal questions. If you need an employee-side employment lawyer, try http://exchange.nela.org/findalawyer to locate one in your state.