Here's How Your Voting Ballot Selfie Might Break the Law

Melissa Goldberg
·4 min read
Here's How Your Voting Ballot Selfie Might Break the Law
Here's How Your Voting Ballot Selfie Might Break the Law

From Oprah Magazine

Election Day on November 3 is creeping on us—which means if you haven't completed your mail-in, vote-by-mail, or absentee ballot yet, and plan to, you should do it soon. (Keep in mind: The Postal Service recommends that voters mail back their ballots at least one week before their state's deadline.)

As you make your selections and (completely!) fill in each oval, you'll probably feel proud...and rightly so. In light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and our nation's deep divisions, there has never been a more important time to vote—and to make a choice about the future of our country. "This 2020 election holds the highest stakes we’ve known for our democracy in our lifetime," Oprah recently said in an Instagram post. "Life as we know and hope for it to be is on the line."

In fact, you might feel so proud that you're even tempted to capture the moment in a "ballot selfie" and share it with your peers on social media.

But here's the thing: If you live in New York, Massachusetts, Georgia, Wisconsin, and more than a dozen other states, it's actually against the law to share a photo in which someone can read your marked ballot—and that picture can result in a fine or even jail time. Not to mention that you run the risk of having your vote challenged or thrown out entirely. (Note: These rules do not apply to images of sealed envelopes, which is one of several ways to safely show your voting pride.)

Most of these restrictions are part of larger laws to protect voters' right to a secret ballot and to curb bribery, voter coercion, and, perhaps most notably, vote-buying. In this case, someone could pay people to vote a certain way, and then demand a photo of a marked ballot as proof that the bought votes were actually cast. (It's worth nothing, though, that similar to voter fraud, there appears to be little evidence of widespread vote-buying.) Additionally, some states have argued that allowing photography at polling places could increase the time it takes to vote, leading to longer lines and frustrated voters—a point that's particularly important during this election cycle, when some states are likely to have fewer in-person voting locations and less poll workers due to the pandemic.

On the other hand, proponents argue that photos of your ballot (or ballot selfies) not only constitute political speech protected by the the First Amendment, but they also encourage voter turnout, especially among young people. In fact, according to a study published in Nature in 2012, those polled said they were more likely to vote if they saw their friends on Facebook had done so.

Thinking of snapping a ballot selfie—either at the voting booth or while voting by mail? Before you do that, you should know where your state stands on them. Plus, we've included advice on how to safely share the fact that you've fulfilled your civic duty below.

Is It Legal to Post a Ballot Selfie in My State?

Where ballot selfies are allowed: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.

Where ballot selfies are allowed—but only if you're voting by mail: Arizona, Iowa, Maryland Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia all have laws restricting photography in polling places, but they do not apply to mail-in ballots.

Where ballot selfies are banned: Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

All that said, rules around ballot selfies are difficult to enforce—and it's extremely rare for states to prosecute voters for posting photos of their ballots. "Given all of the other issues going on in this particular election, I really could not see this being a priority, unless a state’s attorney or law enforcement knew of a pattern," one election officer told Time Out.

The bottom line: It's better to err on the safe side. So instead of sharing a ballot selfie, consider taking a photo with an "I Voted" sticker. Some states, including Washington, Louisiana, and Utah, as well as the nonpartisan nonprofit When We All Vote, have released digital stickers that you can download and print, while Instagram recently unveiled several sticker options that you can add to your Story. You can also snap a selfie with the "Vote Here" sign at your local polling place or as you drop your sealed envelope into your neighborhood mailbox or local ballot drop-box.

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