Ballot selfie

“I think voting is really exciting and being part of the democratic process is really exciting,” said Nikola Jordan, who takes selfies with her ballots.

LINCOLN — Nikola Jordan for years has snapped a “ballot selfie” at the polling place and posted it on social media.

Even before advanced smartphones and Facebook’s popularity, she’d take a handheld camera into the polling place and pose with her ballot.

“I think voting is really exciting and being part of the democratic process is really exciting,” the 32-year-old Omaha woman said.

Current state law, however, prohibits sharing a picture of a completed ballot with other people, which could include posting such a photo on Facebook or Instagram.

A measure introduced Thursday in the State Legislature would protect ballot selfies by allowing a voter to photograph and share his or her ballot.

Lincoln State Sen. Adam Morfeld, who introduced the bill, said he wants to see more young people engaged in democracy and elections, and allowing them to share their voting experience would help.

Under Legislative Bill 787, voters could spread their excitement about voting and encourage others to get involved, said Morfeld, who is the founder and executive director of Nebraskans for Civic Reform.

“That’s something I think everyone in state government should be encouraging,” he said.

Current state law bans a voter from showing his or her marked ballot to other people. Doing so is a misdemeanor, and a violator could face a $100 fine.

While the law doesn’t directly address selfies or photos taken at the polling place, Secretary of State John Gale has concerns about violating the privacy of other people.

“Normally we ask that people turn off their cellphones, electronic devices, when they step into their polling place as a matter of courtesy,” said Laura Strimple, spokeswoman for the Nebraska Secretary of State’s Office.

The Nebraska Secretary of State’s Office wasn’t aware of anyone having been prosecuted for taking a ballot selfie in Nebraska, but the issue has come up in other states.

Lawmakers in New Hampshire banned photos of marked ballots in 2014, and a federal court there later ruled that banning such photographs would violate free-speech rights.

In a statement, Gale said the ruling issued by the federal district court judge in New Hampshire is not binding in Nebraska.

While concerns have been raised, Morfeld said he believes taking a picture with a ballot is protected free speech. “As long as you’re not bothering anybody, then I don’t think there should really be any problem,” he said.

State law still would ban people from soliciting voters to show their ballots, he said.

Bri McLarty, director of voting rights for Nebraskans for Civic Reform, called ballot selfies the “I voted today” sticker of the 21st century.

“We’re very excited we’re able to get a bill introduced so that we can address it and clarify the language ... in advance of the 2016 elections,” she said.

Among the other bills introduced Thursday:

» Riverfront development. As expected, Omaha Sen. Heath Mello introduced LB 806, which would allow Omaha to set up a “riverfront development authority” to better coordinate activities and facilitate development of the city’s riverfront. Mello said many cities in Nebraska were established along riverfronts but need tools to help revitalize those areas.

» Revolving door. Former state elected officials would have to wait two years after leaving office before they could become lobbyists under LB 792, introduced by Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell. State employees, except those in clerical and non-policymaking jobs, would have to wait one year before joining the lobbying corps.

» Family planning. More low-income women in Nebraska could get Medicaid coverage of family planning services under LB 782, introduced by Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus. The bill also would provide $500,000 more per year for mammograms, Pap tests and other breast- and cervical-cancer detection services for low-income women. A similar bill last year didn’t get enough votes to advance.

» License plates. More counties would have the option to drop the county number from their license plates under LB 811, introduced by Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft. Those that did would join Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy Counties in using an alphanumeric system to identify vehicles. Those three counties switched to a 3-letter, 3-number system in 2002.

» Same-sex marriage. Nebraskans would be asked to repeal the state’s ban on same-sex marriage under Legislative Resolution 389CA, introduced by Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha. Voters added the ban to the State Constitution in 2000. The U.S. Supreme Court in June legalized same-sex marriage and declared such bans unconstitutional.

» Protective custody. The State Department of Health and Human Services would be required to take charge of mentally ill people who are taken into emergency protective custody under Schumacher’s LB 780. Currently, counties are responsible to find placements for such people until a mental health board can decide whether they need to be committed. The bill would make it a misdemeanor for the HHS Behavioral Health Division director to refuse custody of a person.

» Climate change. LB 802, introduced by Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm, would create a broad-based health and climate resiliency task force to study and plan for the effects of climate change on Nebraska. The study would be based on a 2014 report about climate change done by researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

This report includes material from Martha Stoddard.

Contact the reporter: emily.nohr@owh.com

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