Early voting is underway in Georgia, where a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #postthepeach urges voters to take selfies of themselves with their “I’m a Georgia Voter” stickers.
These people did.
In Ohio, where early voting began last week, election officials in Butler County set up a selfie station near the exit of the voting room, reports the Journal-News in Hamilton.
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Election officials did it to boost early-voting traffic and get young voters out, Butler County elections official Jocelyn Bucaro told the newspaper.
“We thought it would be a great way to promote voting though social media,” said Bucaro, who added that her county might be the first in Ohio to have a “selfie station.”
But voters across the country should take care when taking “ballot selfies.” Depending on where you live, snapping a selfie at the polling place or photographing your ballot and posting it online could get you into a world of hurt.
Election officials warn voters: Know the rules before you Snap.
Just ask Peg Lautenschlager, chairwoman of the Wisconsin Ethics Commission, what can go wrong.
She recently posted a photo of her presidential election ballot to Facebook.
She didn’t know that Wisconsin law bans voters from photographing their ballots, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. She told the newspaper she had seen other people posting their ballots on social media. She ended up taking the photo down.
Voting rules regarding selfies are typically set at the state or local level, which is why they vary vastly across the country in a confusing mishmash.
In Pennsylvania, for instance, the state’s election code does not address the use of electronic devices in polling places, leaving it up to counties to follow “common sense” rules, according to the Journal-News. The state, though, encourages voters to wait until they leave the polling place to post a selfie to social media, and to use caution that they don’t photograph someone else’s ballot.
(And, P.S., don’t tweet from your voting booth before you cast your vote — and no live-streaming, the state asks.)
In California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new law last month that makes it OK for voters to reveal the contents of a marked ballot — the classic voting booth selfie.
But state elections officials are warning voters the law doesn’t go into effect until next year, the Los Angeles Times reported, a point they expect voters to be confused about come Nov. 8.
And in Ohio? If that selfie includes a shot of your ballot, you could be committing a felony, though election officials have suggested they won’t stalk scofflaws on Twitter, Cleveland.com reported.
More than half of the states, including Missouri, ban selfies through various laws — such as not allowing cameras in polling places — and levy fines against law-breakers, according to NBC News data.
In some states, the rules are unclear about whether selfies are allowed or not.
States that prohibit selfies do it to keep voters from intimidating or coercing other voters, and to prevent illegal vote buying, where people are paid to vote a certain way and could then use a selfie to prove they did.
It’s a practical matter, too. Some election officials prefer that people leave their cell phones at home on Election Day because they worry that mass selfie-taking will hold up potentially long lines.
Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter fans, however, are good to go in at least nine states that explicitly allow ballot selfies or don’t have laws forbidding them, according to NBC.
Virginia is one of those states. Attorney General Mark Herring clarified last month that ballot selfies are not a crime, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
Virginia voters, then, can use a cell phone inside a polling place to take photos of their own ballot to post on social media as long as they don’t interfere with other voters or disrupt the process.
As selfies become increasingly popular, voters have started pushing back against the bans, taking states to court to argue their freedom of speech is being hindered.
Last year a federal court blocked a selfie ban in Indiana, where officials argued they had concerns about vote buying. Federal District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker called the law “a blunt instrument designed to remedy a so-far undetected problem.”
A federal lawsuit is currently challenging Michigan’s ban of photos and videos in voting booths and polling places, too. Voter Joel Crookston said he was unaware he was breaking the law when he posted a picture of his ballot during the 2012 election.
“Ballot selfies are a fact, they are happening and they’re happening nationwide and in many states where it’s illegal, including Michigan,” Crookston’s lawyer, Steve Klein, told Fox 17 in Grand Rapids.
Klein hopes a recent ruling in New Hampshire bodes well for his client, who hopes the court rules on the ban before Nov. 8.
Last week, the First U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston struck down a 2014 New Hampshire law that banned voters from sharing photos of their marked ballots on social media. It was the first time a federal appeals court had considered the issue, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The three-judge panel ruled that state officials offered no evidence that ballot selfies encouraged vote buying or voter coercion.
“The ballot-selfie prohibition is like ‘burn(ing down) the house to roast the pig,’” wrote Judge Sandra Lynch, quoting a 1957 U.S. Supreme Court ruling about free speech.
Snapchat was among the groups arguing to end the ban, saying that ballot selfies are an important way for young voters to “participate in the political process and make their voices heard.”
The decision was heard loud and clear.