PORT WASHINGTON, Wis. (AP) — A local official who posted a photo of his marked ballot on Facebook during the April 2022 election had felony charges against him dropped Monday.
Paul Buzzell, 52, of Mequon had faced maximum penalties of 3 1/2 years behind bars and $10,000 in fines. Buzzell, a member of the Mequon-Thiensville School Board, would have also been barred from holding elected office if convicted.
Ozaukee County Judge Paul Malloy dismissed the charges against Buzzell in a hearing Monday, saying a state law prohibiting voters from showing their marked ballots to anyone else is in violation of the constitutional right to freedom of speech, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
“This case was about more than just a Facebook post; it was about protecting the fundamental right to freedom of expression,” Michael Chernin, Buzzell’s attorney, said in a statement to the newspaper.
Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol, who brought the charges against Buzzell, promised to continue pursuing the case by asking Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul to review the judge’s decision and decide whether to file an appeal.
Kaul did not respond to a request for comment from the Journal Sentinel on Monday.
There has been movement in other states in favor of allowing the so-called ballot selfies.
In New Hampshire, a federal judge held that a state law barring an individual’s right to publish their ballot violated the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal. And in Michigan, Wisconsin’s neighbor, legislators changed state law in 2019 to make the practice legal.
The Wisconsin Senate passed a bill in 2020 to legalize ballot selfies, but the proposal died in the state Assembly.
Candidates for office in Wisconsin have sporadically posted photos of their completed ballots online over the years, in apparent violation of the law, but no charges were brought.