Not because my disheveled pink hair and a crazed look in my eyes made me look a coked-up Muppet and, presumably, a threat to the safety of anyone at the Supervisor of Elections Office, but because … wait for it … I took a selfie.
Yes, I, Jacksonville’s Official Queen of Selfies, took a picture of myself and my ballot while standing in the privacy of my own voting booth—with no one else or his/her ballots in the picture.
Those of you who know me realize I was not attempting to make a political statement or encourage anyone to vote “no” on Constitutional Amendment No. 1 and “yes” on Constitutional Amendment No. 2 (see what I did there?). I was merely exercising one of my First Amendment rights which, as I recall from Mrs. Abrams 11th grade American history class, goes something like this: “It’s your face and your ballot. So long as another individual is not in said picture, feel free to take a selfie. In fact, post it on social media. It’s a great way to promote early voting. #firstamendment”*
When I realized she was speaking to me, I was confused. Justin Timberlake just took a selfie and posted it on Instagram, so why can’t I take one? (Pictured: selfie of me turning around to see who the woman was talking to. Certainly not a law-abiding citizen such as myself.)
Before I finished filling out my ballot, I walked over to the woman who I assume was a poll worker and asked what she said. Poll Worker repeated herself. I asked why I couldn’t take a picture. Poll Worker told me it was against the law. I told her not allowing me to do so violated my First Amendment rights. Poll Worker called someone over (who I later learned was Jean Atkins, director of voter administration). Atkins reiterated taking photographs in the polling place was against the law. I advised her a lawyer friend said the law could be challenged and called said lawyer friend, who was not available.
Then, Atkins, visibly irritated, whipped out a spiral-bound book and showed me Florida Statute 102.031(5): “No photography is permitted in the polling room or early voting area.” I asked what would happen if I went back to the booth to complete my ballot and took another selfie. Poll Worker asked, “WHY would you do that?” (Clearly, she did not get the press release announcing my title of the city’s Official Queen of Selfies.) Atkins advised me if I did, she would call Mike Hogan, supervisor of elections, and, if necessary, the police.
I asked Atkins if we could go outside, and I could get her on video explaining why I couldn’t take a picture. She responded she didn’t need to: It was in the statutes and handed me a copy, adding, “I’m just doing my job.” She also offered Hogan’s cell phone number (I got his voicemail). I tried to explain I wasn’t trying to be a jerk (to which she replied, “Well, you are.“), but I was just doing my job too.
At this point, I wasn’t sure what to do and my lawyer friend hadn’t returned my call. I asked Atkins what would happen to my ballot if I didn’t complete it. She said I could put it in the counting machine (not the technical name, I’m sure), and it would be counted. Or I could turn it in at the counter, and it would be treated as a spoiled ballot and not counted. In the second case, my name would be removed from the system (otherwise it would show that I already voted), and I could vote at another time.
Long story short (too late?), I did not get admonished by Hogan (in fact, he didn’t even call me back but had someone else call on his behalf.). I did not get arrested. But I did get lots of “looks” from the poll workers and staff. Even when I went outside, they were still glaring at me through the windows like I was some kind of coked-up Muppet.
As I was leaving the Supervisor of Elections Office, I was contemplating going back tomorrow and doing the same thing. But after talking to two lawyer friends, I decided against it—not because I’m afraid of getting arrested (I watch “Orange Is the New Black”) but what was the point? It’s not like my street cred’s going to go up for a voting-related misdemeanor. Plus, I’m already the Selfie Queen.
Bottom line: I’m not meant to follow in the footsteps of Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. or even George Clooney and fight the system.
I am meant to take selfies. It’s my job.
* Okay, so the real wording of the First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
UPDATE (November 8, 2016): After speaking to a civil rights attorney and a higher-up in the the public defender’s office, I decided to avoid potential arrest and, instead, limit my first amendment rights protest to social media. (In all honesty, I don’t know I could have survived an hour in jail without my iPhone.)
Their legal advice, however, did not deter me from taking another selfie when I voted on election day (as a reminder, my previous ballot did not count as I turned it in to a poll worker instead of putting it in the voting machine). But this time, I was more discrete: even catching an action shot as I actually voted.