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New law allowing ballot selfies head to Hickenlooper's desk

March 2, 2017 Updated: March 2, 2017 at 10:55 am
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Break out the selfie sticks. State lawmakers on Thursday sent a bill to the governor that would legalize so-called "ballot selfies."

It marks a significant evolution on the subject given that in past legislative sessions lawmakers rejected the idea of allowing people to take a photo of their ballot and post it to social media sites like Facebook.

But the issue hit a breaking point this fall, which culminated in court proceedings.

The Senate backed House Bill 1014 by a vote of 31-4. Because it passed the Senate without amendments and already passed the House, the bill now heads to the governor, who is likely to sign the measure.

The "no" votes came from Sens. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, Kevin Priola, R-Brighton, Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, and Jack Tate, R-Centennial.

"If you're proud to be voting for the first time and you would like to share that with the world ... and you take a picture of your ballot to share with the world, that is currently illegal," said Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, a sponsor of the bill.

"You shouldn't go to jail and you shouldn't be fined for participating in a political democracy."

The bipartisan bill was also sponsored by Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, and Reps. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver, and Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs.

Hill filed a lawsuit in November challenging the 125-year-old Colorado law. A Denver federal judge ruled that Colorado can't enforce its 1891 law and no one should be prosecuted for sharing an image of their ballot.

A patchwork of mixed federal rulings across the country were issued around the same time ahead of the election.

Colorado lawmakers on Thursday, however, made it official for the state.

The issue hit a boiling point after former Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey issued a news release in October reminding voters that ballot selfies are illegal. That news release served as the impetus for the lawsuits after people took it as a sign that they could face criminal charges.

Sharing a marked ballot is a misdemeanor crime, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The law was enacted to protect against voters being coerced into voting a certain way. Other Colorado laws, however, also protect against voter fraud and coercion.

The handful of lawmakers who opposed the bill to permit ballot selfies said they worry that it could put people in an uncomfortable situation if they don't support the same candidate that their friends, co-workers and bosses support.

"Imagine yourself in an office which is overwhelmingly supporting one candidate or another ... and the folks in the office say, 'Let's do ballot selfies ...' Under current law, that would not be possible," Kagan said. "But if this bill is passed, that could really become a thing, and think how uncomfortable you would feel if you were going to vote for the candidate that the majority of the office did not support."

Others fear that the measure might lead to vote buying and trading.

But as Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, pointed out, voting habits are changing in modern times. For one thing, most people vote at their office desk or kitchen table and then mail their ballots.

"It is interesting because of changing technology and changing voting patterns," Gardner said. "It becomes just nonsensical in a way ... We will come into the 21st century."

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