GRAND RAPIDS, MI – U.S. District Court Judge Janet Neff denied a motion by Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to dismiss a voting rights claim against the state’s ballot exposure laws today. The lawsuit, brought by the Pillar of Law Institute on behalf of Michigan resident Joel Crookston, argues he has a constitutional right to take a photograph of his own marked ballot and share it on social media—known as a “ballot selfie.”
“This was previously a free speech case, and it still is,” said Steve Klein, Crookston’s attorney and of counsel to Pillar. “But now it’s also a voting rights case.”
Crookston filed the case in late 2016, and entered discovery last year. A deposition of one of Secretary Johnson’s expert witnesses revealed the laws, which require rejecting a ballot if it is exposed in the polling place, have been enforced in the past. Crookston amended his complaint, and the Secretary moved to dismiss the claim, which was denied.
“The laws Joel is challenging basically entrust poll workers with the power to reject a ballot—that is, to take away a voter’s right to vote—with nothing more than an accusation that it was exposed,” said Klein. “It’s censorship and a denial of due process.”
Judge Neff’s order requires Secretary Johnson to answer Crookston’s amended complaint within 14 days.
“Ballot selfies are a simple, but powerful act of free speech, not a problem to be solved,” said Klein. “We look forward to vindicating this right for Joel and all Michiganders.”
The Pillar of Law Institute defends citizens against investigations and prosecutions that abridge First Amendment rights and proactively challenges laws and regulations that enable such abuses. Crookston is also represented by Patrick Jaicomo with the Miller Johnson law firm and Arless Hudson.