Posting ballot selfies: Personal choice or illegal act?

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — You probably already know whether you’ll vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton on Election Day, leaving one important question to consider when you walk into your polling place: Is it OK to take a picture of your ballot?

While secrecy in the voting booth has become a thing of the past for those ready to share their views and daily lives on social media, laws nationwide are mixed on whether voters are allowed to take pictures of themselves in the act or of their ballots — “ballot selfies”.

Federal judges have struck down bans on selfies in New Hampshire and Indiana, and rules have been changed in places like California and Rhode Island, but in many states it’s still a violation that carries potential fines or jail terms.

There are laws against sharing any photo of your ballot in 18 states, while six other states bar photography in polling places but do allow photos of mail-in ballots, according to a review by The Associated Press.

FLORIDA: Photographs are not allowed in polling places or of mailed ballots.

Critics say such regulations have not kept up with technology and are confusing for voters and election workers. Some states that ban ballot selfies or have moved to block them cite concerns the photos could harm the integrity of the voting process by encouraging vote-buying or coercion, though some acknowledge there’s no evidence to support those fears.

Nikola Jordan, 33, of Omaha, Nebraska, has been taking such photos for about 10 years and believes they are a great way not only to share her views on the issues, but also to stress the importance of voting and being civically active. A Nebraska lawmaker added a provision to state election law this year to allow ballot selfies.

“I was doing this for years before I learned it was technically illegal,” Jordan said with a laugh. “It’s all about encouraging other people to get involved in the process, to show it can be fun and exciting to make your voice heard (at the polls). Don’t think of voting as some boring thing … It’s your chance to make a difference.”

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston last month upheld a decision that New Hampshire’s ban on ballot selfies was unconstitutional, saying it suppressed a large swath of political speech and there was no evidence to support the state’s concerns.

“It goes to the core of democracy,” said Gilles Bissonnette, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, which brought the suit on behalf of three people investigated for violating the statute.

Among those filing briefs in support of ballot selfies was Snapchat, which argued they are the latest way voters, especially young adults, get involved in the political process and express support for or against a cause or a candidate.

“We had a failure to recognize the importance of online political speech, especially to the younger generation,” Bissonnette said. “The First Amendment needs to be guarded rigorously. These old laws cannot and should not be applied to the modern technology.”

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last month that repeals a 125-year-old law barring voters from showing people their marked ballots. It goes into effect after the November election, but legislative analysists have found no occasion of the ban being enforced — and it hasn’t stopped people from sharing photos of their 2016 ballots.

Colorado started mailing ballots this week in the all-mail presidential election, and some ballot selfies started popping up on social media. In response, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey on Thursday issued a reminder that publicizing completed ballots is a misdemeanor in the state.

The ACLU criticized his statement as potential voter intimidation. Morrissey’s spokeswoman told reporters he had no plans to comb social media looking for folks posting ballot selfies, saying authorities investigate only in response to a complaint.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued a formal opinion last month that nothing in Virginia law prohibits voters from taking pictures of themselves, fellow voters or their ballot within the polling place.

“This is a product of the times we live in,” said Democratic New Jersey Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, who has sponsored a measure to allow ballot selfies. “If voters want to express their pride in participating in our democracy by voting or tout their political preferences on social media, they should be entitled to do so.”

Clarissa Livingstone, 26, of Toms River, said she doesn’t understand concerns raised over ballot selfies. She doesn’t believe people would be influenced by seeing ballot photos that she or anyone else might post.

“People are so rigid in their political beliefs these days,” Livingstone said, “they’re not going to change their votes once they see how some Jersey girl voted.”

STATES WHERE BALLOT SELFIES ARE ALLOWED

CONNECTICUT: No law bans ballot selfies, according to Patrick Gallahue, a spokesman for Secretary of State Denise Merrill. But election moderators have discretion to prohibit activity “that threatens the orderly process of voting or the privacy of another voter’s ballot.”

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: There’s no ban. Election officials discourage people from taking pictures but won’t do anything to stop them, said Tamara Robinson, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Board of Elections.

HAWAII: A law passed this year allows voters to share a digital image of one’s own marked ballot.

IDAHO: There’s no law banning them, the secretary of state’s office said.

INDIANA: A federal judge last year barred the state from enforcing a new law prohibiting ballot selfies.

KENTUCKY: Secretary of state spokesman Bradford Queen says state law does not allow people to record the likeness of a voter, but the law does not say whether voters can record their own likeness. Therefore, the secretary of state’s office routinely tells county clerks the law does not prohibit ballot selfies.

LOUISIANA: Secretary of State Tom Schedler says ballot selfies are allowed in the state, though he’s not a fan of them.

MAINE: The secretary of state discourages ballot selfies because there’s a ban on making unauthorized ballot copies, but there’s no law against voters posting photos of their marked ballot.

MINNESOTA: Allowed as long as they’re not shown to fellow voters at the polling place or capture another person in the photo.

MONTANA: Law does not specifically prohibit the use of cameras at polling places, but election administrators and judges have broad authority to limit disruptive activity, according to Emily Dean, spokeswoman for the secretary of state. Sharing photos of absentee ballots is also not banned.

NEBRASKA: Gov. Pete Ricketts signed a bill in April that allows someone to show their marked ballots to others without risking a $100 fine.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston last month upheld a decision that a ban was unconstitutional, saying it suppresses a large swath of political speech and there was no evidence to support the state’s concerns.

NORTH DAKOTA: Photos inside polling places are allowed.

OREGON: All voting is done through mail-in ballots, which voters are free to photograph. A state law prohibiting showing a marked ballot to another person was repealed in 2014, according to Molly Woon, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins.

RHODE ISLAND: The Board of Elections adopted new rules in time for November’s election that allow for selfie-taking inside polling places. The updated regulations allow voters to take photos as long as they don’t show another person’s ballot.

UTAH: Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill last year that makes it legal for people to snap pictures of themselves with their ballots. The law makes it a misdemeanor to photograph someone else’s ballot.

VERMONT: No rules regarding photos in polling places. Clerks are encouraged to adopt specific rules for their polling places to maintain order, according to Jim Condos, a spokesman for the secretary of state.

VIRGINIA: Attorney General Mark Herring issued a formal opinion last month that says ballot selfies are legal in Virginia. Nothing in Virginia law prohibits voters from taking pictures of themselves, fellow voters or their ballot within the polling place, he said.

WASHINGTON STATE: It’s not against the law in Washington, but a spokesman for Washington state Secretary of State Kim Wyman said the office doesn’t recommend it.

WYOMING: No laws against ballot selfies. Law does allow judges of elections to “preserve order at the polls by any necessary and suitable means.”


STATES WHERE BALLOT SELFIES ARE ILLEGAL

ALABAMA: Not allowed because voters have “a right to cast a ballot in secrecy and in private,” said a spokesman for Secretary of State John Merrill.

ALASKA: A state law bans voters from showing their marked ballots, but a spokesman says there is no practical way to enforce it.

COLORADO: Ballot selfies or any public dissemination of a marked ballot are considered a misdemeanor. A 2016 bill to repeal the ban failed.

FLORIDA: Photographs are not allowed in polling places or of mailed ballots.

GEORGIA: Law prevents photos of ballots or the screens of electronic voting machines.

ILLINOIS: Banned by a law that considers “knowingly” marking your ballot so that another person can see it is a felony that carries of prison sentence of one to three years.

KANSAS: Secretary of state says a selfie showing a picture of the actual ballot violates state law.

MASSACHUSETTS: Taking a photo of a completed ballot in a polling location is banned in Massachusetts. But the state’s top election official, Secretary William Galvin, says there’s little the state can do to prevent it. Photos of mailed ballots are also banned.

MICHIGAN: Michigan bans photographs of ballots, but a resident is challenging the law as unconstitutional.

MISSISSIPPI: Photos showing how someone marked their ballot after voting are prohibited.

NEVADA: Photos inside polling places are not allowed, except by the media. Photos of mailed ballots are also banned.

NEW JERSEY: Law prohibits voters from showing their ballot to others. A pending legislative measure would allow voters to take photos of their own ballots while in the voting booth and share it on social media.

NEW MEXICO: Law prohibits voters from showing their marked paper ballot “to any person in such a way as to reveal its contents.”

NEW YORK: Photos showing a completed ballot or indicating how a person cast their vote are not allowed.

NORTH CAROLINA: Photographing or otherwise recording a voted official ballot is not allowed.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Law bars voters from allowing their ballots to be seen. A 2012 state attorney general’s opinion says that makes it illegal to reproduce a ballot by cellphone, video camera or iPad.

SOUTH DAKOTA: Secretary of State Shantel Krebs says ballot selfies are not allowed because they can be considered influencing a vote or forcing someone to show proof of voting.

WISCONSIN: State law prohibits sharing photos of ballots.


STATES WHERE THE LEGAL STATUS IS MIXED OR UNCLEAR

ARIZONA: Bars photography within 75 feet of polling places. But the Legislature changed the law that barred showing photos of completed ballots in 2015 to allow posting of early ballots on social media.

ARKANSAS: Nothing in state law prohibits taking photos while in a polling place as long as it’s not disruptive or being used for electioneering purposes, but state law on sharing voter choices is unclear.

CALIFORNIA: Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last month that repeals a 125-year-old law barring voters from showing people their marked ballots. The change will take effect nearly two months after the presidential election, but legislative analysts have found no occasion of the ban being enforced. The author of the bill, in fact, has been sharing constituents’ photos of marked ballots on social media since the law passed.

DELAWARE: Has a policy against cellphones in voting booths, but elections Commissioner Elaine Manlove said: “I don’t know that we can control what happens behind the curtain.”

IOWA: Law prohibits the use of cameras, cellphones or other electronic devices in voting booths, so Secretary of State Paul Pate has asked voters not to take selfies with ballots. Photos of absentee ballots are OK.

MARYLAND: Bans electronic devices in a polling place except for the media. And even media members aren’t allowed to photograph a ballot that shows how someone is voting. But photos of mailed ballots are OK.

MISSOURI: Law prohibits voters from allowing others to see their ballots if the intent is to show how they voted. Secretary of state spokeswoman Stephanie Fleming described ballot selfies as a “gray area” and advises voters to check with local election authorities.

OHIO: Has a longstanding prohibition against voters letting their ballot be seen with the “apparent intention” of letting it be known how they are about to vote. The state elections chief has advised local election boards to consult their own attorneys about how to apply the law.

OKLAHOMA: Officials recommend against it, noting that state law dating back about 40 years suggests it is illegal but outlines no penalties.

PENNSYLVANIA: Law prohibits someone from revealing their ballot “letting it be known how” they’re “about to vote.” But officials recently released guidance on electronic items in polling places that noted the recent court cases that “found a First Amendment right to take `ballot selfies.”‘

TENNESSEE: Voters are not allowed to take photos or videos while in polling places. Voters are not allowed to take photos or videos while in polling places. They’re only allowed to use electronic devices for informational purposes to assist during voting, according to Adam Ghassemi, a spokesman for Secretary of State Tre Hargett. The state’s law doesn’t address mail-in ballots.

TEXAS: Bars photography within 100 feet of polling stations, so selfies are not allowed. Photos of mail-in ballots are OK.

WEST VIRGINIA: Electronic devices are banned inside voting booths, according to Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. Nothing in the law prohibits photos of mail-in ballots.

For a look at state by state laws regarding selfies in the voting booth, click here.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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