House, Senate will let voters take smart phones to polls, but not to talk or take pictures

After some spirited debate, the House joined the Senate Monday in approving legislation that says voters can take their smart phones into polling places for “informational purposes,” but can’t use them for talking or taking pictures.

The bill passed 75-23. It cleared the Senate on March 9, 33-0. Sponsors are Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, and Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. The House added a minor amendment that will send the measure (SB597) back to the Senate for expected concurrence.

From WPLN:

Rep. Bo Mitchell (D-Nashville) objected the bill doesn’t let voters use their phones to take pictures or video, even if they’re trying to document fraud.

“Well, now, if a law-abiding citizen sees something happening in a polling place, we’re going to have them committing a crime by trying to stop criminal activity.”

Besides banning photography, House Bill 988 also prohibits telephone conversations and recording at the polls.

Democrats tried to change the bill to allow limited picture-taking. But Republicans quashed the proposal, which they said should have been offered earlier, while the bill was still in committee.

UPDATE/Note: Further (and a day later) Richard Locker adds some further interesting details on the bill:

The bill won unanimous, bipartisan Senate approval with no debate last month when it was one of 44 bills on a “consent” calendar approved en masse with one vote and no discussion. It ran into opposition in the House Monday night when Democrats questioned why the Republican sponsors wanted to prohibit voters from recording difficulties or possible vote fraud with their cellphones.

Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, presented an amendment saying the prohibition on photos and videos inside the voting place “is not going to be used to squelch legitimate photography to capture election fraud.

“Obviously we don’t want people chatting on the phone and disturbing other voters, however, I think it’s important that we don’t inadvertently prevent voters from using their cameras to record intimidation or fraud in the polling place.”

Stewart’s amendment would have required anyone recording intimidation or fraud to turn over a copy of the recording to election officials immediately.

“I’m concerned that without this amendment, this bill will outlaw people using their cameras to capture voter fraud or intimidation in the polling place,” he said.

But House Republican Caucus chairman Glen Casada of Franklin moved immediately to table the amendment, and the majority Republicans voted 68-26 on a straight party line to kill the amendment.

Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, said that without the amendment, the bill will criminalize law-abiding citizens who see something happening in a polling place and record it.

“In Davidson County two years ago after the election, the state election coordinator put out a 20-page report on … all the improprieties that happened in that election and a lot of that we were able to document using phones and video,” Mitchell said. “Now we’re going to have law-abiding citizens committing a crime.”

State Election Coordinator Mark Goins said, however, that his office never reviewed any video or photographs for the Davidson County report and instead based it on interviews.

Goins said the bill did not originate with his office but that some election commissions had banned cellphone use altogether while in the polls.

During last year’s elections, the Secretary of State Tre Hargett — whose department includes the election coordinator’s office — rolled out an app designed to help voters navigate the election and the ballot. But the office discovered that some local election commissions were banning cellphone use even for that.