Legislation which revises Tennessee law to broaden the rights of Tennesseans to use their cell phones at the polling place passed the Senate on Thursday by a vote of 30-0. Senate Bill 517, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), regulates voting without infringing on a citizen’s First Amendment rights.
The bill stems from the 2016 presidential election when famous Tennessean Justin Timberlake took a selfie at a polling place in Germantown, Tennessee. The photo became national and international news due to the controversy surrounding Tennessee’s law prohibiting such action.
“Sometimes citizens are waiting in long lines in hallways before they even reach the room with the voting machines,” said Senator Kelsey. “We need to allow folks to call home about the grocery list while they are waiting.”
The legislation allows certain exceptions prohibiting the use of cell phones by election officials or commissioners, which mostly pertain to acts of harassment. It also ensures that a recording of a marked ballot, including selfies, would be prohibited only if it had been recorded in an effort to commit voter intimidation, voter fraud, or the sale of a vote.
“This law helps us to continue to conduct our elections with integrity and reliability, as the ban on cell phone use is a narrowly tailored restriction to achieve that interest,” added Kelsey. “At the same time, it employs common sense so that we don’t infringe on our citizen’s First Amendment rights.”
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, where it is scheduled for a vote in the Local Government Committee on April 18.