Twitter and Instagram have become great places to share your breakfast, your backyard sunset – and, for many Americans today, your ballot.
But in many parts of the U.S. sharing how you voted with the world is against the law. And several states have indicated they’re prepared to enforce that.
The Nov. 6 presidential election has become part of a digital generation’s omni-sharing reflex: Through several days of early voting, and on Election Day itself, voters published photos of their ballots to such social media sites as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. While some people posted pictures of themselves at polling stations or wearing an “I voted” sticker, many photos included the filled-in bubble indicating the voter’s choice of candidate.
To some, this broadcasting instinct is a natural extension of the rest of their digital lives – indeed, many Twitter users are vocal about their political preferences outside of election season. And there’s no shortage of online entreaties to share voting experience – from columnists such as Ana Marie Cox and household names such as YouTube.
But vote-choice sharing runs afoul of one of the most basic democratic tenets: The secret ballot.
Usually, this rule deals with a voter’s right to keep his vote a secret, ideally freeing the person from any personal or professional backlash connected to that political preference. But what happens when she broadcasts it freely?
Depends on where you live.
Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia expressly prohibit recording devices in the polling booth, according to the Citizen Media Law Project. Other states have laws against photographing a completed ballot.
Under Wisconsin’s election fraud law, it’s a felony to show your marked ballot to any person.
One North Carolina resident, fearing he wouldn’t be able to remember his slate of preferred candidates, wrote his choices for state and judicial races on his smartphone.
But a poll worker made him put the phone away, Brad Bell said in an e-mail to news website WRAL.com.
“I felt like I was being denied my right to vote because I was not allowed to use my smart phone,” Mr. Bell’s e-mail read.
But it appears some voters don’t view their secret ballots as all that secret: A Pew research survey released Tuesday noted that 22 per cent of the 1,011 people surveyed between Nov. 1 and Nov. 4 said they’d shared their voting decision online, often through Twitter or Facebook.
Delaware Elections Commissioner Elaine Manlove said prohibitions on pictures in voting booths should be unenforceable.
“It’s their ballot, and if they want to give up their right to a secret ballot … I have no way of stopping that,” Ms. Manlove said in an interview. Delaware polling stations have signs telling people not to bring their phones with them, she said, but those are to discourage talking in voting booths. There’s no law prohibiting photos.