It’s election time again. And that means nothing more than Instagram photos of people’s “I Voted” stickers, long lines at polling stations, and the occasional celebrity taking ill-advised voting booth selfie. And this election cycle brings an extra wrinkle: take a picture of your ballot and post it from the comfort of your couch. Which begs the question: is it illegal to take a voting booth or voting selfie?
The short answer is: possibly – depending on where you live. Provided you don’t take the photo for some dark and evil purpose, your chances of being prosecuted are slim. (But that̵
The reason for this has nothing to do with being a luddit, and it all has to do with the integrity of the voting process in three ways: vote buying, undue influence, and voter intimidation.
Buying votes and influencing voters
In 2012, a North Carolina voter brought his smartphone to the polling station. He had made a note of which candidates he wanted to vote for on his phone, took his phone out to read the list, and was immediately downgraded by election officials who eventually got him to leave the room and take notes on a piece of paper do and then return to cast his vote. As local NBC subsidiary WRAL explained, there were two problems: the first was that he could text someone with a cell phone and get information about who to vote for.
The second point was that if a criminal was spending large sums of money buying votes, the only way to tell whether a voter had followed their instructions was through a picture (a widespread vote buying in the late 19th century is a major reason why we are now having secret ballots). WRAL even mentioned stories of criminal syndicates who gave people cell phones to record their votes in the voting booth. North Carolina has since relaxed its rules for you are You can take a cell phone into the cabin, but you are still not allowed to communicate or take photos.
Of course, these points are slightly weakened due to the increasing number of postal votes. In 2000 a satirical website, Vote Auction, appeared. The premise was that you would auction your vote and then fill out a postal vote. That postal vote would be posted, checked, and sent to the correct polling station.
The website was, of course, ridiculously illegal and quickly shut down (the webmaster claimed it was a protest against the role of money in government), but it became another example of the mounting concern about how the internet would affect the vote .
The issues of bribery and coercion came to the fore in a recent case against New York’s anti-voting selfie law. On appeal, US District Judge Kevin Castel investigated New York State’s ban on voting selfies and quoted a New York electoral board co-chair as saying, “There are still economic and political reasons for bribing voters, but the ability to conduct such a system is severely hampered by the prohibition of things like ballot selfies. Castel also notes another problem: the time it takes to get the perfect voting selfie increases the waiting time for the people behind you, and this would likely decrease the turnout.
Ultimately, Castel decided in favor of the ban, saying that while ballot selfies were “an effective form of language,” there were “other forms of visual representation of candidate support.” [that] can be just as convincing or almost as convincing without the dangers described here. “
A closely related sibling with buying votes is voter influence – and this is where it gets tough for celebrities. If it is obvious that a big star is voting for Candidate X, her fans may want to emulate that celebrity. In countries with strong anti-influence electoral laws like New Zealand, the Election Commission warns: “Posting a photo of a completed voting paper online on election day could violate election day rules as electoral law prohibits publication of a statement on election day that will likely affect how one other voters should vote. “
There’s another concern about selfies at polling stations: other people. According to HuffPost, there were concerns in 1994 that poll videos in the South “were barely veiled attempts to intimidate black voters into polls.” And in the 1960s there were reports that Texas Rangers “were in Mexican-American districts using cameras to appear to take pictures of the voters”. Although these cases were never followed up, they have resulted in a wave of photographic restrictions not only in the voting booth but also in the surrounding areas. This makes sense because the person behind you may not want anyone to know they are voting.
How about some selfies at home?
Technology is moving fast and it’s a lot easier to take a picture at home than at a polling station. But state laws vary widely.
North Carolina says flatly, “No one may photograph, videotape, or otherwise record the image of a ballot for any purpose that is not permitted by law.” But Arizona, for example, is less clear because a law says, “One Person is not allowed to take photos or videos while they are within the 75 foot limit [of a polling place]“While another law allows a voter to post a picture of their own ballot on the Internet. Because of these two laws, it is widely agreed that Arizona only allows postal ballots to be sent. However, due to rapidly changing terms and laws, it is the case.” It is best to check the laws in your state and / or city before posting a Snap. And the concerns don’t go away because they’re not in the voting booth.
In 2019, some Oklahoma lawmakers were working on a bill to clarify the legality of selfies in both regular and postal voting. However, then Senator Jason Smalley was concerned, telling Public Radio Tulsa, “A person could collect a lot of absentee ballots and create a persuasion campaign, buy clicks and generate excitement before voting that a person would get more and more support because of the absence language . “(Another Senator, Lonnie Paxton, disagreed. He said,” I mean, a person could be killed by a goldfish today, but that is unlikely. “)
Will I be prosecuted?
Hard to say. Some states don’t even really have enforcement mechanisms for the law (a list of state laws can be found here). The ACLU has fought several high profile cases related to these bans with varying degrees of success. Whether you take a selfie or not, you are part of the long battle between free speech and free choice.
This story has been updated for 2020.