GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Joel Crookston and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson submitted a stipulated order to dismiss to Judge Janet T. Neff of the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan today, asking her to recognize settlement in a lawsuit brought by Crookston that challenged state prohibitions on photographing and displaying one’s own marked ballot outside of polling places, including on social media.
“Michigan voters will be free to photograph their own marked ballots at the polls in future elections,” said Stephen Klein, of counsel to the Pillar of Law Institute and lead counsel for Crookston. “It’s a big win for a simple act of free speech, voting integrity, and common sense.”
Under the terms of the settlement, Secretary Benson agrees that Michigan law does not prohibit a voter from displaying a marked ballot as long as it is outside of a polling place and the 100-foot “buffer zone” around a polling place. By the next election in August, Secretary Benson will revise Michigan’s polling place instructions to specifically guide voters as to how to photograph their own ballots in voting stations. Crookston withdrew his other challenges to the polling place photography ban and ballot exposure laws.
“The settlement is fair,” said Klein. “Photographs of marked ballots—or ‘ballot selfies’—were the reason for this case, and in that sense it’s a total victory for Joel.”
Crookston brought the case in 2016 upon learning that photographs he’ had previously taken in a Michigan polling place, including a ballot selfie, were illegal. After winning a preliminary injunction, it was overturned by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals due to the injunction’s proximity to the election. Following discovery and an amended complaint to include a voting rights challenge, the case was in the midst of summary judgment briefing when Secretary Benson took office, replacing Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.
“It’s been an eventful two-and-a-half years,” said Klein. “We’re proud of Joel for sticking to principle and glad to see another state embrace rather than threaten a unique and amusing form of political expression.”
The Crookston case is Pillar’s second successful ballot photography lawsuit. After winning an injunction in Colorado in 2016, the state amended its laws to allow the practice. Other cases have been won in Indiana, New Hampshire and Illinois.
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 was also represented by Patrick Jaicomo with the Miller Johnson law firm and Arless Hudson.