Justin Timberlake and the limits of what you can do in a polling station

(CNN)When you go into the polling booth on Election Day, you can’t necessarily count on having the kind of virtually unlimited freedom Americans are guaranteed under the First Amendment. Just ask Justin Timberlake.

The singer drew attention this week for taking a selfie inside a polling booth during early voting in his hometown in Tennessee, where taking photos in a polling station is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail.


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Here’s how you know a law is of questionable morality: Tuesday, the Shelby County, Tennessee, district attorney’s office said the matter was “under review.” What’s there to review? The photo is more of a smoking gun than, well, an actual smoking gun.
The DA’s office didn’t take 24 hours to investigate whether a crime was committed. It took 24 hours to make a public relations determination: either prosecute a famous voter for broadcasting his democratic pride, or openly ignore a potential violation of criminal law.
Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich said her office’s earlier statement that the selfie incident was being investigated “was incorrect and was released without my knowledge.”


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It’s a lose-lose situation, and a lose-lose law.


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No wonder Justin Timberlake — and many others — have accidentally gotten in trouble for demonstrating their voter pride at the polls. Fortunately for Timberlake, the DA declined to prosecute.
This year, the rules about voting places are particularly likely to be discussed.
Amid his claims of a “rigged” election, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has implored his supporters to show up on Election Day, but not just to vote. He has encouraged them to monitor polling places and to be vigilant against voter fraud.
Some have suggested that directing citizens to engage in ballot-watching might be illegal. Since the states are all over the place on regulating partisan observers at the voting booths, it’s hard to say whether asking citizens to do so would be illegal.
Laws prohibiting political discussions or wearing a Hillary Clinton “I’m with her” T-shirt would never be tolerated under normal circumstances. On their own, without the context of an election, they smack of a totalitarian regime, or a dictatorship.
But elections are not normal circumstances. Our society, legislatures and courts have to balance the right to engage in political discourse with the right to vote. On Election Day, the right to vote temporarily trumps those ordinarily sacrosanct freedoms of speech.

Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/28/opinions/justin-timberlake-and-voting-booth-limits-cevallos/index.html

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