Election Law

If You Snapped a Photo of Your Filled-in Ballot, You May Have Violated the Law in Your State


Now that Election Day has come and gone, voters finally put an end to a long season characterized by hard-fought campaigns and bitter debates about political issues.

But legal questions are likely to remain with us for some time, including the validity of ballots cast in a world that increasingly relies on new technology.

However, it could violate the law, depending on the state, and even constitute a felony in some to take a photo of your filled-in ballot from a smartphone.

As the Citizen Media Law Project detailed in a handy chart, taking a cellphone photo of one’s own voted ballot and sending it to others could at least arguably violate election law in more than half of the states in this country. A page on Documenting the Vote 2012 provided more detailed advice on avoiding legal issues.

Simply because there might be a technical violation of voting law enacted when paper ballots were the norm doesn’t, of course, mean that it will be enforced.

“Certainly, we’re not going to Instagram to find people’s ballots,” spokesman Fred Woodhams of the Michigan department of state tells Pro Publica.

But voters found to be photographing their ballots in a polling place in Michigan will have them confiscated, he said.

Meanwhile, in an apparent case of life imitating long-standing jokes about voting machines that won’t let voters cast their ballots as they wish, a Pennsylvania voting machine was removed from service after a voter’s YouTube video showing his Obama vote being switched to Romney went viral, according to the Daily Mail and MSNBC.

As Jonathan Turley notes on his law blog, this has happened before … when Homer Simpson tried to cast his ballot for Obama.

An expert blamed the gaffe on a miscalibrated machine, Gawker reports.

On the lighter side, as a humor columnist for the Austin American-Statesman has demonstrated by actually doing so, it is legal in Texas to vote while wearing a Big Bird costume.

Related coverage:

Associated Press: “Big Bird, AARP and Navy mom: Leave us out of campaigns”

All Things D: “If You Want to Stay out of Jail, Don’t Instagram Your Ballot”

Hollywood Reporter: “Sean Hannity Tweets Ballot Illegally, While Other Instagram Users Break Election Law”

Future Tense (Slate): “Study on Voting and Social Media Demonstrates Stupidity of Laws Against Instagramming Your Own Ballot”

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