As part of a new project spearheaded by YouTube and PBS called "Video Your Vote," the Citizen Media Law Project is researching the laws regulating recording activities at polling places. Our specific focus is on the laws that impact voters' ability to document their own voting experiences through video and still photography, as well as their ability to carry out other newsgathering functions, such as interviewing other voters outside of polling places.
The YouTube/PBS initiative aims to educate voters on a wide array of issues associated with voting in America, "while enabling the world to watch pivotal moments in this historic election as they unfold." According to their joint press release:
Some of the best videos will be showcased on PBS television, as part of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer's Election Day broadcast. They may also be used throughout PBS' election coverage, both on-air and online. YouTube users are asked to tag all of their Election Day videos "videoyourvote". Events, for instance, that hinder the voting process should be tagged, "pollproblem". These videos, as well as those documenting the spectrum of the entire voting process, will be easy to find on the Channel and analysts from PBS' political team will then review some of them and offer commentary on how the election played out.
"This program takes the best of PBS and The NewsHour, our editorial reputation and broadcast reach, and combines it with YouTube's tremendous online video community to share polling place footage from Maine to California and everywhere in between for all to see," said Judy Woodruff, senior correspondent and political editor of The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer. "This is the YouTube election, and we're thrilled to be a part of it."
A number of organizations have been asked to participate in the project, including ACLU's Voting Rights Project, BlackBoxVoting.org, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, People for the American Way, Pew Center for the States, and Why Tuesday? With the help of CMLP intern Stefani Wittenauer and Berkman media producer Dan Jones, we created a video primer that provides a general overview of the law related to video at polling places.
For those who want more specific information, we've got a lot of resources available in our legal guide. We compiled a list of websites and contact information for election officials in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as a preliminary list of statutes regulating polling place activities. We are also creating detailed analyses of the law in as many states as possible prior to Election Day, with a focus on the battleground states first. So far we've posted information about the law in California, Florida, Minnesota, and Ohio. All of these resources and more can be accessed via the Documenting Your Vote page in our legal guide.
Given the tight time schedule between now and the election, we'd love the help of our readers with this election law research. If you've got input on this topic, please leave a comment or contact us directly.
Question about Massachusetts
A user on YouTube left the following comment on the page where our video appears: "So can you shoot video in a polling place in Massachusetts?" The answer is "probably."
There is no statutory provision that specifically prohibits the use of photographic or video equipment inside a polling place. There is, however, a statute that makes it a crime to "hinder, delay or interfere with . . . a voter while on his way to [an] election, while within the guard rail, while marking his ballot or while voting or attempting to vote." Mass Gen. Laws ch. 56, § 29. If your videotaping obstructs the voting process or interferes with or intimidates other voters, you could run into problems with this section.
Note also that Mass Gen. Laws ch. 56, § 25 potentially prohibits videoing your own marked ballot and uploading it to the Internet. The statute makes it a crime to "allow the marking of [your] ballot to be seen by any person for any purpose not authorized by law." It's not clear whether the authorities would enforce this against a voter who posted a video of his or her own vote online -- as far as I know, it was originally intended to stop disclosure of one's vote inside a polling place in an effort to influence other voters.
Finally, photos on the New York Times Polling Place Project indicate that at least some Massachusetts poll workers allowed voters to use photographic equipment during the primaries. See for example this one and this one. This suggests that poll workers might allow small, unobtrusive video equipment as well. One poster to the New York Times project, however, reported that she was not allowed to use a (photographic) camera in her polling place in Cambridge. Different counties, and even different polling locations, could have different policies.