Before You Snap Your Vote: The Rules and Regulations of Mail-in Ballot Selfies

If you're thinking taking a selfie with your absentee ballot or at the polls, you may want to think twice before posting on social media.

ballot selfie rules

Ballot Selfies Rules & Regulations Lead Image

ballot selfie rules

By all estimates, the 2020 general election has already shattered records for voter turnout. With less than a week left before the election, millions of Americans have braved hours-long lines and deceptive tactics to cast their ballots early. With so much build-up and even more at stake on the first Tuesday of November, it is no surprise that voters are capping the moment with plans to take a selfie in the voting booth or snapping a pic of their completed mail-in ballots and posting them to Twitter, IG Stories, Snapchat, or TikTok. 

The civic duty flicks—commonly referred to as ballot selfies—are a quick way to show your followers who you support, to post like your favorite celebrity, or maybe just to prove to friends and family that your months of voter encouragement weren’t just posturing. But depending on where you live and how you cast your vote, taking a picture of your completed ballot could be illegal, possibly leading to a fine or potentially causing your vote to be thrown out altogether. Here’s some details about what could happen if you snap a photo at the voting polls.

Like most social media interventions, America’s scattered anti-ballot selfie laws punish voters in an effort to protect them. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, state-specific provisions banning residents from taking photos of their completed ballots are implemented to protect voter secrecy and guarantee the privacy inherent in a supposedly free and open election. 

That rule might make sense if there were news cameras reporting live inside the voting booth, but when it comes to ballot selfies, individuals are choosing to give up their privacy at will. To that point, a number of states have enacted a ban on photos during in-person voting but allow ballot selfies for mail-in votes. Even still, more than a third of all U.S. states ban any and all photographic evidence of a voter’s ballot. 

Logically, the next question most people ask about ballot selfie laws concerns the punishments for the seemingly arbitrary rules. Does anyone actually care if you give your paper ballot the handsome Squidward treatment? In rare cases (we’re looking at you, Illinois), breaking a ballot selfie law can get you jail time, but typically, the front-facing camera faux pas is punishable by a minor fine. As we saw with Justin Timberlake’s Tennessee debacle in 2016, though, most cops aren’t spending their days tracking down boasting voters. Amidst rampant, blatant voter suppression around the country, we wouldn’t put it past election officials to use ballot selfies as a reason to discredit and throw out ballots.

So where can you get in trouble for taking a picture with your ballot? In Arizona, Texas, Iowa, Tennessee, West Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware, you are allowed to pose for pictures with mail-in ballots only. If you live in these same states and you’re going to the polls to cast your vote in person, your camera has to remain off. In those states, the concern about ballot selfies is focused on the sanctity of the polling location more than the privacy choices of individual voters.

"As a former state and local election official, another thing we had to sometimes deal with too was not only just somebody capturing a picture of their ballot but also what else they might capture a picture of in the polling place that could run the risk of capturing other people's information,” David Levine, the election security fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy and a former official in Idaho and Washington, D.C., told Business Insider.

In addition to the seven states that restrict photos taken inside the voting booth, 19 states— Nevada, Utah, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, and Massachusetts—have made it illegal to take a photo of your completed ballot no matter where you fill it out. 

If your state doesn’t appear on either list, you can feel free to flick up with your hanging chads or make a Fan Cam celebrating your suffrage. In fact, over the past half-decade, seven states including California, Oregon, Utah, and Nebraska have passed laws either explicitly allowing ballot selfies or repealing past statutes that banned them.  

At the end of the day, no matter what state you live in, unless you used to front N’sync, it is unlikely that a ballot selfie will lead to jail time, a fine, or even a second look from anyone outside your followers list. Still, it never hurts to stay on the safe side of the equation and refrain from doing anything that could be used as an excuse to invalidate your vote. Besides, a selfie with the classic “I Voted” sticker affixed to your sweater will bring in just as many likes and emoji-filled reactions as showing off your selection for state senator. 

Don’t forget that you can do your part by visiting Complex’s Pull Up & Vote site—where you can double-check your registration, register to vote if you haven’t, and request a mail-in ballot.

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