Memory lane: When TN banned voter ‘selfies’ (before Justin Timberlake)

The legislature voted in 2015 — with relatively little attention — to outlaw the taking of photographs at the ballot box, a law that came in for substantial media attention this year after celebrity Justin Timberlake blatantly violated it by taking a ‘selfie’ while casting his vote and posting the picture on Instagram.

There’s now a movement to repeal the 2015 law in 2017, pushed by Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, who followed Timberlake’s example by taking a ‘selfie’ in the voting booth (previous post HERE). While Timberlake declared in discussing the matter on national TV that  he had “no idea” that such a law was in effect, Hardaway’s blatant violation was deliberate act of civil disobedience, coupled with a contention that the law is unconstitutional and an announcement of his efforts to repeal it.

Shelby County’s district attorney has declined to prosecute Timberlake for his misdemeanor offense and, of course, is pretty certain to ignore Hardaway as a scofflaw as well.

For the record, the bill passed as SB597, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson. (It’s officially recorded as Public Chapter 315, HERE). The bill passed the Senate unanimously on the ‘consent calendar’ of non-controversial  bills, but ran into Democratic opposition on the House floor, where it was ultimately approved 75-23, all Republicans voting yes.

The House vote came after Republicans voted unanimously to kill an amendment proposed by House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart that would, he said, exempt from prosecutions cases wherein a photograph was taken to document cases of voter fraud or intimidation.

The most notable media account of the House floor vote at the time is HERE. After that story was written, the minor amendment that was attached before House approval – it changed the effective date to Jan. 1, 2016 – was approved unanimously in the Senate without discussion.

The 2015 approval came after failure of a similar bill in 2013. That measure (SB803 in the 108th General Assembly) also won unanimous Senate approval with Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, as sponsor, but then died in the House, where it was sponsored by Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster. Weaver said she was inspired to introduce the measure after hearing a county election commissioner complain that cell phones in voting precincts were an unwarranted distraction to other voters. (Post on House floor discussion back then, HERE.)

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