Ohio: Documenting the 2012 Vote

Note: This page covers information specific to Ohio. For general information regarding legal issues associated with documenting your vote, see the Documenting the Vote 2012 page.

Photography Inside the Polling Place 

The Ohio Secretary of State's opinion on recording inside the polling place has been evolving. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted issued Directive 2012-29 in August, which instructs local elections officials to allow reasonable media access, provided such access does not interfere with poll workers and voters. The 2012 Directive instructs officials to consider the following:

  • whether the media representative is credentialed (i.e., is the person from an accredited media source);
  • the length of the time the media is present at a polling location;
  • the length of voter lines at the polling location;
  • the size and layout of the polling location;
  • protecting voter secrecy during the media's presence;
  • the conduct of the media representative; and
  • the effect of the presence of the media on voters and election officials.

Media are allowed to record while present, but the Directive states that "[t]he media must respect a voter's right to privacy by requesting the voter's permission prior to recording the voter or the voter's actions while in or about the polling place."

There is an interesting change in the language compared to Former Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner's 2008 Directive, which specifically distinguished credentialed media from "internet writer[s]," in a way to suggest that those planning to publish online should be afforded less access than those who plan to publish in other media. The 2012 Directive makes no such distinction, focusing instead on whether the member of the media has credentials as one factor, and the practical impact of allowing media to gather news at the polling place. If you plan to record, it's best to contact the election official in your precinct, and coordinate with that official as to when would be the best time to be present so as to not interfere with the election process.

Even if you are allowed to be present, the 2012 Directive further stresses that members of the media should not "disrupt the voting process, interfere with the election, intimidate voters, or jeopardize the secrecy of the ballot."

Photography Outside the Polling Place

Ohio Code § 3501.35(A)(1) states that no person shall "[l]oiter, congregate, or engage in any kind of election campaigning within the area between the polling place and the small flags of the United States placed on the thoroughfares and walkways leading to the polling place, and if the line of electors waiting to vote extends beyond those small flags, within ten feet of any elector in that line." The "small flags" referenced here are to be placed  "at a distance of one hundred feet from the polling place on the thoroughfares or walkways leading to the polling place, to mark the distance within which persons other than election officials, observers, police officers, and electors waiting to mark, marking, or casting their ballots shall not loiter, congregate, or engage in any kind of election campaigning." § 3501.30(A)(4)

This law has been limited when it is applied to members of the media conducting exit polling. In Beacon Journal Publishing Co. v. Blackwell, 389 F.3d 683 (6th Cir. 2004), the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit limited application of this statute to "permit Plaintiffs to have reasonable access to any polling place for the purpose of news-gathering and reporting so long as Plaintiffs do not interfere with poll workers and voters as voters exercise their right to vote." This decision is incorporated into the Secretary of State's guidelines on media access to polling places detailed above. Again, these guidelines leave it largely to the discretion of the local election officials, so if you plan to conduct any form of exit polling or other newsgathering within the boundaries of the polling area contact your local official first.

Recording Your Own Ballot

Ohio Code § 3501.35(A)(4) states that no person shall "[e]xhibit any ticket or ballot which the elector intends to cast." The future tense of the statute suggests that the prohibition applies only when the elector has yet to cast the ballot, but it is unclear whether courts would limit this language to exhibitions prior to voting.

Update: The 2012 Ohio Precinct Election Official Manual (.doc) again suggests that certain recording devices may be allowed in the polling place, provided that they do not interfere with voters. The manual notes that candidate-appointed poll observers:

[m]ay not use any electronic or communication device or any audio/visual recording device in any manner that impedes, interferes with, or disrupts an election, or in any way intimidates a voter, risks violating the secrecy of the ballot or voter privacy. Observers using a cellular or digital telephone, walkie-talkie, or any other wired, wireless, or satellite audio communication device to discuss the election or a perceived problem with the administration of the election may not do so within the polling place.


Subject Area: