Michigan Secretary of State Warns Voters Not To Use Cameras Inside The Polls

Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land issued a press release today warning voters that Michigan law prohibits the use of video cameras, still cameras, and other recording devices inside Michigan polling places on Election Day. 

The release mentioned the Video Your Vote project by name, saying that the project "urging [voters] to record their Election Day experiences cannot be conducted in Michigan polling places."  Land acknowledged that YouTube and PBS have cautioned voters that some states like Michigan prohibit the use of recording devices in the polls (for example, see our video), but expressed concern that "not everyone will be aware of the warning." 

Michigan has no statute expressly prohibiting the use of cameras and recording equipment inside polling places, but the Secretary of State has taken the position since at least 2006 that voters may not use video and still cameras, including cell phones, inside the polls.  (A February 2008 election inspector training manual takes the same position.) Credentialed members of the news media are excused from the ban, although some restrictions apply to their conduct as well.

The stated reasons for the camera ban are "to protect voters who may feel intimidated in the polling place by the presence of a camera" and to deter "those who may try to sell their vote." The press release also indicates that Michigan law prohibits displaying one's own marked ballot, relying on Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.738(2)

The Secretary of State's recent comments are silent on what voters can do outside the polls.  But, the press release quotes Karole White, president and chief executive officer of the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, as saying: "By keeping recording devices out of the polling place, you can still tell your story while respecting the law and the rights of other voters."  Whether she meant to imply that voters are free to film outside the polls is not entirely clear, but no Michigan statute expressly prohibits such conduct. (This may be cold comfort, seeing as no statute expressly bans filming inside either.)

Section 168.744 of the Michigan Compiled Laws prohibits campaigning and solicitation within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place, but nothing in its language suggests a ban on photography or videography in this zone. How it impacts your ability to conduct interviews outside is another question.  The February 2008 training manual mentioned above states that exit pollsters must remain at least 20 feet from the entrance to the building and refrain from approaching voters entering the building, which seems like a good rule of thumb for ordinary interviews as well.  In the end, you'll have to assess the situation outside for yourself and use your common sense. It may be best to hang back beyond the 100-foot zone altogether.

So, Michigan voters, keep those cameras and video recorders out of the polls! And if you've got a cell phone with you, leave it in your pocket. This does not mean, however, that you cannot participate in the Video Your Vote project or otherwise document your voting experience or the events of this historic day. There are lots of great filming opportunities outside of polling places -- you'll just have to be a bit more creative. The important thing is not to jeopardize your right to vote next Tuesday.

This post is part of our series looking at state election laws that regulate activities at polling places on Election Day.  We cover these laws from a general standpoint in the Documenting Your Vote section of our legal guide. As I've said before, we'd love the help of our readers with our election law research.  If you've got input on election laws in Michigan or other states, please leave a comment or contact us directly.

(Photo courtesy of The New York Times Polling Place Photo Project.  Licensed under a CC Attribution-No Derivatives license.)


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