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Politics

Ballot Selfies Are Illegal, But Maybe Not For Long

A "ballot selfie" posted by a user on Instagram, May 17, 2016.
Instagram
A "ballot selfie" posted by a user on Instagram, May 17, 2016.

Ballot Selfies Are Illegal, But Maybe Not For Long
As the June 7 election approaches, many enthusiastic voters are taking "ballot selfies." This is actually illegal in California.

As the June 7 election approaches, many enthusiastic voters are taking "ballot selfies" — photos of themselves with their completed ballots, or just their ballots with the bubbles filled for specific candidates.

They may not know it, but this is actually illegal in California.

"For 125 years in California, it has been illegal to, once you have marked your ballot, show it to anyone else," said Vince Hall, the executive director of the voting rights advocacy group Future of California Elections.

Clearly, these laws were written at a time when social media did not exist. But the idea is to prevent both vote buying and voter coercion, Hall said.

"If a boss says, 'we’re all voting for Candidate X, so let’s all post selfies showing we support Candidate X,' that is coercion," he said. The same applies for friends and family members asking to see ballot selfies as proof of how someone voted.

But, Hall said, no one has been prosecuted for posting a ballot selfie in California.

For social media election enthusiasts, there could soon be a reprieve. Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) introduced a bill that would make ballot selfies legal in California.

Hall said the issue has attracted some heated debate.

"Opponents believe privacy in the voting booth is sacred, and to protect the integrity of elections we need to ensure there's no vote selling and no coercion," he said. "On the pro side, people say young people are going to do it whether you tell them to or not. So either it's a meaningless law, or you end up prosecuting people who didn’t do anything wrong."

The bill is now making its way through the California Senate.

"If I were to take out my crystal ball and predict the future, I’d say it would be legalized," Hall said.

But even if it passes and is signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, it won't go into effect until January 1. So ballot selfies will still be technically illegal in the June and November elections.