Lauren Goode

Recent Posts by Lauren Goode

If You Want to Stay out of Jail, Don’t Instagram Your Ballot

A not-so-surprising thing happened this morning: My Instagram feed morphed from photos of dogs, kids, fancy coffees and food porn into a stream of people’s voting ballots.

Photo courtesy of Instagram.

And it’s not only my feed: A search for “#vote” in Instagram’s Explore tab currently brings up more than 460,000 photo results. Not all of these hip pics are ballots, necessarily, but most are related to campaign and voting issues.

It’s Election Day. It’s exciting. It has been exhaustively covered, and it is completely expected that people have and will express their opinions through social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. (Update: According to brand new data from Pew Research, 22 percent of registered voters have indicated on Facebook or Twitter who they voted for.) Google’s YouTube is even encouraging voters to document their voting process.

But should you use your smartphone to photograph your ballot? Well, that all depends on where you’re voting.

According to the Citizen Media Law Project’s Web site, some states, including Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada and Texas, “expressly prohibit the use of photographic and recording equipment inside polling places.”

Photo courtesy of Instagram.

The site also offers a handy chart summarizing the laws in each state around documenting your vote.

In New York state, posting pics of ballots is apparently not illegal, according to this report.

But one voter in North Carolina, where it’s illegal to take photos of completed ballots, under Statute 163 – 166.3 (sections b and c), was stripped of his smartphone when he took it out to consult his list of chosen candidates.

The state of Wisconsin is taking an even harder line, with the Government Accountability Board telling voters that posting completed ballot pics to Facebook or Twitter constitutes election fraud under the state’s law — a Class I felony. It’s also not the first time the Wisconsin GAB has warned of this.

It’s worth noting that many states prohibit activities that interfere with other people’s voting processes. So, even if photography is allowed in your polling place, disrupting or intimidating someone else, or capturing an image of their ballot, might be a big no-no.

What if you share a partial photo of your ballot that doesn’t include your candidate selection, as a Facebook friend did this morning? It’s a bit murky, but if your state prohibits ballot photography, that could arguably extend to any part of the ballot.

As tough as it is to peel yourself away from your smartphone for 10 minutes and not blast your ballot pics to your social streams, in some states, it’s wise to use caution when it comes to your vote.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald