Judge refuses to block New York 'ballot selfie' law

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on Thursday refused to block enforcement of a New York state law barring voters from taking photographs of their marked ballots so that they could post them on social media websites.

U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel in Manhattan said it would “wreak havoc on election-day logistics” to issue a preliminary injunction against the law, which prohibits the display of “ballot selfies.”

Under the law, which dates from the 19th century, it is a misdemeanor for voters to share the contents of completed ballots. Violators could face up to one year in prison.

Three voters sued on Oct. 26 to block enforcement of the law, saying that sharing ballot selfies was a form of speech protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

But the judge said that because of the imminence of next Tuesday’s election, the voters needed to show a “clear or substantial likelihood” that their lawsuit would succeed before he could issue an injunction, and that they had not done so.

“The public’s interest in orderly elections outweighs the plaintiffs’ interest in taking and posting ballot selfies,” though they remained free to express their political message through “other powerful means,” Castel wrote.

Leo Glickman, a lawyer for the voters, said in an interview his clients were disappointed by the ruling and do not plan to appeal it, but will keep pressing their case ahead of the 2017 election cycle.

“People should be able to express themselves freely by photographing their marked ballots and putting them on social media feeds,” he said, adding that state legislators have expressed interest in having the law repealed.

New York is one of 18 U.S. states restricting the taking of photographs in voting booths or of marked ballots.

Another federal judge on Wednesday refused to halt enforcement of a similar California law, though bans have been voided in states such as Indiana and New Hampshire.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis