NZ banning photography from polling places

I just saw on reddit that the New Zealand electoral commission is banning photography from polling places under the grounds that they impeded other voters at the polling and could influence other voters who see the photos. Specifically they say:

Photography in a voting place and sharing photographs on social media

While the Electoral Commission encourages people to take and share photos of themselves with their ‘I’ve voted’ sticker once they’re outside the voting place and unlikely to interrupt or inconvenience other voters, the Commission will be putting up ‘No taking photos’ signs inside all voting places and advance voting places.

The increased interest in voters taking ‘selfies’ inside voting places raises concerns about congestion and disturbance in voting places and can breach other rules in the Electoral Act regarding campaigning on election day and protecting the secrecy of voting.

Voting Place Managers have to ensure that voting proceeds smoothly, that voters are not impeded, and that order is maintained in voting places.  Voting places are for the purpose of voting and people should not remain in the voting place for other purposes.  The increased interest in voters taking ‘selfies’ inside voting places has the potential to create congestion and disturbance and for this reason Managers will be putting up ‘no photography signs’.

Publishing anything on election day that could potentially influence another voter is strictly prohibited, and photos taken earlier in the voting period that are shared, re-shared or reposted on election day could fall foul of the Electoral Act.

If a person posts an image of their completed ballot paper on social media on election day or in the three days prior to election day this is likely to be an offence under section 197 of the Act, which carries a potential penalty of a fine not exceeding $20,000. Section 197 of the Act prohibits a range of activities including:

  • the publication of any statement on election day that is likely to influence voters (section 197(1)(g); and
  • the distribution of an imitation ballot paper on election day or the 3 days before election day indicating the candidate/party for whom any person should vote or having thereon any other matter likely to influence a voter.

It also potentially exposes the voter’s friends to the risk of breaching the rules if they share, re-share or repost the voter’s ‘selfie’ on election day.

As there are risks of congestion and disturbance to other voters and risks with publishing or distributing material that includes a ballot paper, particularly in a medium where material will continue to be published– the Commission will not allow voters to take photos inside voting places.  We will be placing ‘no photos’ signs up in voting places.  Returning Officers will still be able to give permission to candidates for filming in voting places.  Permission for candidates will only be given on the condition that there is no filming behind voting screens, no filming of completed or uncompleted voting papers, and no activities that disrupt voting in the voting place.

I found the reasons they give a little dubious and a complete ban overkill so I’ve written the following to them:

Hello,

I am concerned about the recently published social media policy:

http://www.elections.org.nz/parties-candidates/all-participants/use-social-media

specifically the section banning all photography from polling places.

In the past two elections I have taken photos of the polling place I attended and my unmarked ballot paper and uploaded these to the Wikipedia. These photos (and similar ones) have been used to illustrate photos about elections and even cardboard furniture as well as being used on other sites. Even the official blog of the NZ ambassador to the Philippines used one. http://blogs.mfat.govt.nz/andrew-matheson/elections-theyre-important.

I am thus concerned that there appears to be a new policy that bans all photographs except limited ones by members of the media. This seems to go against the openness of our electoral process and the grounds that are given for the ban are very weak.

The matter of influencing other voters can be dealt with by requesting that photos only be published after voting has closed. Similarly I’m sure there are already rules to handle people who take too long to vote when there are long lines. A specific rule against photographing filled out ballots will also address concerns about voters proving to others they have voted a specific way.

In summary I very much hope you can replace a ban of photography with a more targeted rules against specific problems.

Simon Lyall

 

I receive a reply back from the Electoral Commission:

Dear Mr Lyall,

Photography in the voting place has only ever been allowed with the prior permission of the Returning Officer, but the number of photos being
taken without prior permission has increased hugely this year.  I understand that you feel that people could be allowed to take photos but be
advised not to publish the photos until after 7pm on election day – but unfortunately this is not what voters were doing.

Photos within the voting place, and particularly those taken of marked ballot papers and behind voting screens, have generated a large number of
complaints to the Commission already, and as a result we have re-looked at our rules around photography.

Voting Place Managers have to ensure that voting proceeds smoothly, that voters are not impeded, and that order is maintained in voting places.
Voting places are for the purpose of voting and people should not remain in the voting place for other purposes.  The increased interest in voters
taking ‘selfies’ inside voting places has the potential to create congestion and disturbance and for this reason Managers will be putting up ‘no
photography signs’.

Returning Officers will still be able to give permission to candidates for media or campaign managers to organise filming in voting places.
Permission will be given on the condition that there is no filming behind voting screens, no filming of completed or uncompleted voting papers,
and no activities that disrupt voting in the voting place.

We absolutely encourage people to take and share photos of themselves with their ‘I’ve voted’ sticker once they’re outside the voting place and
unlikely to interrupt or inconvenience other voters, however people taking selfies while behind the voting screen is not a good idea.