In the last few years, we’re kind of like, “if you didn’t take a selfie, did you even vote?” Because we take pictures of everything. And voting becomes more important with every election. But as exciting as it is to take your “I voted” selfie, depending on where you live, it could get you in trouble. As a way to protect people and their votes, some states have laws on the books about voter secrecy. But since that’s always been the norm, many of us don’t even know such laws exist. And while there are a lot of states that have changed their rules, many have not. So before sharing your ballot selfies, you need to be aware of what the rules are in your state.
In 19 states, sharing a photo of your ballot once you’ve filled it out is illegal. Many people probably have no idea, and you’re not likely to face legal trouble, but it’s something to be mindful of. We’re living in a time when voter suppression is very real, and you just never know. States that don’t allow for ballot selfies are New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, Alaska, South Dakota, Missouri, Nevada, Utah, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Ohio. Southern states Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and North and South Carolina also ban pictures of a completed ballot. There are some states that only allow pictures of a mail in ballot.
But what is the point of such laws? Well, they are in place to protect individuals’ right to vote how they want. Having them helps to curb things like bribery, vote buying, and voter coercion. In New York, the voter secrecy laws go back to the 19th century. “This law was designed to prevent vote-selling and voter coercion,” lawyer Leo Glickman told The New York Times. He is the lawyer who argued that the law violates the First Amendment’s right to free speech. “The evil it was trying to address was a union boss or employer following workers into a polling place and making them show who they voted for.”
Now that’s not really an issue, but the concept of voting in secret is pretty much law. When you vote in person, you’re in some sort of booth so no one can see. Even if you’re voting by mail, you receive a secrecy sleeve. You’re not supposed to let anyone see you voting, not even the people who live with you. It makes sense when you think about ways people can have their opinions swayed. Taking ballot selfies could prove that you’re voting in line with how someone told you to vote. But largely, vote buying isn’t really a thing that we should worry about. And if someone you know is trying to force you to vote a certain way, that’s abuse and a whole separate issue.
There are court cases in recent years around the issue of ballot selfies, so it’s definitely a talking point in certain states. In New Jersey, it’s a criminal offense to post a picture of your ballot. “They were really concerned with preserving the secrecy of the vote. That carried into this provision from 2005 of not letting people see how you’re voting,” Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University told The New York Times. The New York law was upheld in 2017; the judge ruled it protects from fraud and delays at polling places.
On the other hand, states like New York with laws against ballot selfies make a good point. Taking a picture while you’re voting can lead to delays. You shouldn’t be wasting other people’s time trying to get that perfect angle when you’re in the voting booth. But this year, with many people voting by mail from the safety of their own home, you’d think things could be a bit more lax. Now that people see the ease of not voting in person, the question of sharing voting photos will change. “There are some folks who express concern about ballot secrecy and coercion, but there are others who say that people who want to should be able to take that risk…of losing their own right to privacy,” David Levine, the election security fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy tells Business Insider.
Just as who you vote for is your decision, you should be able to decide if you want to share that decision publicly. We may not think about it this way, but seeing people voting can actually be encouraging. It makes sense, when you think about things like FOMO. If you see all of your friends or even your favorite celebrities voting, you’ll want to as well. According to a study published in Nature back in 2012, the people polled said they were more likely to vote if they saw their Facebook friends were. Maybe that’s why places like New Hampshire and California have changed their laws around ballot selfies. “Sharing a ballot selfie is a magnificent display of civic participation,” California State Assembly member Marc Levine told The New York Times. Levine was the one to lead the charge on having the law changed in 2016.
Moral of the story is, you can still take pictures of yourself voting. But use discretion when you’re sharing your ballot selfies. If you’re going to post them, maybe just show your ballot envelope after you finish voting. Or share a picture of you with your “I voted” sticker. Better safe than sorry in this case.
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