A proposed ban on using cellphones and cameras at polling places, approved quickly and unanimously in the Senate, has stalled in the House amid suggestions it could block efforts to record wrongdoing.
Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, said she proposed HB921 at the urging of a county election administrator who believes cellphones and picture-taking devices are an inappropriate “distraction.” And state Election Coordinator Mark Goins said he has asked for a criminal investigation into reports of a person who sold his vote, then took a photo of the voting screen to prove how he voted and collect payment.
But members of the House Local Government Committee questioned Goins and Weaver at length on what they see as problems with the legislation.
Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, said he has taken each of his five children with him into a voting booth and snapped a picture. That was “a neat thing for us,” he said, adding that “we’re getting into some muddy water here” with the bill.
Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, noted Shelby County voters last year were assigned to vote in the wrong legislative district. With a cellphone picture, he said, they could show the screen as assigned and establish that the ballot was incorrect.
Similarly, Parkinson said voters could record illegal activity such as campaigning within 100 feet of a polling place. And Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, said one of his constituents took a video last year of a poll worker spending four minutes to fold a provisional ballot and another two minutes trying to stuff it into a box which was “funny” and an indication there had been no training on provision ballots.
“We’re going to eliminate all evidence of wrongdoing in a polling place,” said Mitchell
Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, noted that the bill says local election officials may grant an exception to the photography ban for news media. But he said the way the bill is written, they could also ban news media from making video or photographs.
On the other hand, Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, said he supports the bill, declaring it “a little bit offensive” when somebody uses a cellphone to take his picture at a polling place.
Goins said he has asked the FBI to “go into a specific county,” which he did not name, to investigate reports of cellphone pictures being used in buying votes. Responding to questions, he said “I cannot prove” at this point that such a situation actually occurred.
Weaver wound up putting the bill off until the committee’s last meeting. The date for that is unclear, but could come as early as next week.