Taking selfies of how you vote in the US election…
Can you or can’t you?
Spare a thought for Justin Timberlake. The US singer (pictured top) wanted to encourage his countrymen to vote in today’s presidential election, so he did what all advocates of the democratic process do: he took a selfie inside a voting booth in Memphis, Tennessee, and posted it for the world to see.
Unfortunately, it seems that Timberlake broke the law. Tennessee folk are forbidden “from… taking photographs or videos while inside the polling place”. The crime, if pursued zealously, can result in 30 days in jail — and a $50 fine. (Praise be to District Attorney General Amy Weirich, who confirms that money will not be wasted prosecuting Timberlake.)
But as America goes to the polls, to what extent are voters at large subject to restrictions on publishing photographs of how they’ve voted?
Here, of course, it is illegal to publish exit polls before the polls close because it may influence how other people vote. So if you were to publish a selfie, of, say, a ballot paper with a X clearly marked against Nigel Farage’s name (just saying), before the polls had closed, you would break the law.
In the US, each state has its own laws. Some are clearer than others.
Alabama: Voters may not take photos or videos inside the polling place.
California: The Elections Code says: “After the ballot is marked, a voter shall not show it to any person in such a way as to reveal its contents.” Put the camera away.
Iowa: The use of cameras, cellular telephones, pagers, or other electronic communications devices in the voting booth is banned. Don’t do it.
Louisiana: Good news, selfie-lovers. A video camera may be used at the polling place, so long as it does not interfere with the voting process.
Missouri: Voters are prohibited from allowing a ballot to be seen by any person with the intent of letting it be known how anyone is about to vote or has voted.
Rhode Island: Time to be snap-happy! There are no restrictions on photography.
Not So Clear
Delaware: No known laws apply. Unknown ones are not thought to exist. Snap away.
New Jersey: There is a ban on “expressive activity” within 100 feet of the polling place. But what about someone inside a polling booth, taking a selfie?
North Carolina: No person shall photograph, videotape, or otherwise record the image of any voter within the voting enclosure, except with the permission of both the voter and the chief judge of the precinct. Where is that judge when you need him?
Wisconsin: Be warned: the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board Emergency Rule bans the use of cameras by observers. If you’re taking a selfie, you may well be observing yourself.
Clear As Mud
Hawaii: The right to vote is forfeited if you “willfully exhibit a voted ballot or unvoted ballot” from a primary election. However, the law is silent on whether it is acceptable to share an image of a completed ballot in a general election.
Indiana: Here there is a statute governing media access to polls, but it is unclear whether those laws apply to non-media wishing to photograph and share a ballot.
Louisiana: Good news, selfie-lovers. A video camera may be used at the polling place, but then again it mustn’t interfere with the voting process. So can you or can’t you? We don’t know.
North Dakota: No one knows.
South Dakota: No one knows there either.
Utah: A voter cannot display of his/her ballot “with an intent to reveal how he/she is about to vote.” But does that mean you can reveal how you have voted?
One last thought. What if you’re in a state that says you can’t publish a selfie of how you voted, but hop across the border into one where you can? We can only hope that, among the many things he will tackle if elected, Donald Trump will bring clarity to this most fraught of questions.