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Are Ballot Selfies Legal?

By Richard Dahl on November 02, 2022 3:56 PM

After casting our ballots, many of us proudly share online photos of ourselves with an "I Voted" sticker attached to our shirt, cheek, or forehead.

There's nothing wrong with proclaiming your good citizenship with that kind of selfie. But if you're thinking of posting a selfie with a ballot, you might think again.

Take the case of a Wisconsin man, Paul Buzzell, who faces a felony charge with a maximum jail sentence of 3 1/2 years for posting a marked school-board election ballot on social media. Buzzell is a member of the Mequon-Thiensville School Board and posted his completed ballot on his Facebook page after the March 27 election.

Wisconsin law says sharing a marked ballot with anyone is against the law. Candidates in the Badger State reportedly have posted photos of completed ballots over the years without consequences, but Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol decided to charge Buzzell anyway. Gerol says he considers the charge against Buzzell a "test case" that could lead to an appellate decision that will answer whether the state law prohibiting ballot selfies violates the First Amendment. A preliminary hearing is set for Dec. 15.

State Laws Vary

So, could the same fate await anyone who posts a ballot selfie? Like so many things in American life, it depends on where you live.

While Wisconsin bans ballot selfies, many other states allow them— although restrictions may apply. Supporters of the practice say it is good for democracy because it is free speech and encourages voter participation. Opponents say it could lead to buying and selling votes. For example, a person who is paid to vote a certain way could prove the deed with a ballot selfie.

Ballot selfies are photos of completed ballots that are shared on social media and can be the ballot alone or in the company of the voter's (usually smiling) face.

Voting in the Digital Age

Not that long ago, of course, the idea of photographing yourself and/or your completed ballot for all the world to see was absurd. Everyone accepted the fact that ballots were secret. But in the last two decades, the prevalence of smartphones with digital cameras has created a world where people share everything on social media, and ballot selfies gained traction.

In 2014, New Hampshire was one of the first states to respond to the new technology, passing a law to ban them. Two years later, however, a federal appellate court ruled that the law unconstitutionally infringed on free speech rights, paving the way for many states to allow them. The number of ballot selfies then mushroomed during the 2020 general election, when widespread voting at home with absentee ballots made it much easier to do.

State by state, the practice varies. Ballotpedia, a nonpartisan and nonprofit online encyclopedia that monitors elections, says about half of the states now allow it. Some of those states do leave space for restrictions, however. In California, for instance, the secretary of state's office says election officials and poll workers need to "exercise their discretion" whether the selfies are causing disruptions.

Some states grant limited use of ballot selfies. Iowa, for instance, prohibits cameras in polling places but says voters who vote absentee can do it. The same is true in Maryland and Texas.

Ballotpedia says 14 states other than Wisconsin prohibit ballot selfies:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Massachusetts
  • Mississippi
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota

If you want to display your civic spirit after voting, we still prefer an "I Voted" sticker. But if you feel you must share your ballot, check with your state's election office or your secretary of state. You don't want to be sued or arrested.

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