Editor’s note, October 8, 2020: This piece was last updated November 8, 2016, and some details may be out of date. See all our latest coverage of the 2020 election here.
It's Election Day!
You walk into your local polling place, grab your ballot, and enter a voting booth. But then, you decide that merely exercising the foundational right of democracy will not suffice: you must capture the moment, and share it with your digital peers. You take out your cell phone, strike a pose, and snap a selfie with your ballot.
Wait — were you allowed to do that? It depends what state you're in.
The Associated Press recently combed through the laws in all 50 states relating to the legality of taking a selfie in the voting booth. In 21 US states (and Washington, DC), it is perfectly legal to take a photo with a ballot. In at least 16 other states, it is explicitly illegal — and can earn you a fine or even jail time.
Why the ballot selfie is so controversial
Ballot selfies, however innocent they may seem, have become a heated topic of debate.
Proponents argue that the selfies are "good for democracy" and are protected under free speech. Moreover, the pro-selfie crowd asserts that these photos boost young voter turnout. Studies have shown that Facebook users are more inclined to vote after seeing their friends post about voting on social media.
Those in opposition claim that ballot selfies could "compromise elections" by encouraging vote buying. That is, a person who is being paid to vote a certain way can easily, and privately, prove she did so by taking a photo of her ballot.
As a result, America is divided on the ballot selfie.
Ballot selfies are contentious — and have even gone to court
There seems to be little in the way of geographical trends, but in general, many Northwestern states support the selfies, while the Deep South unilaterally opposes them.
"I was doing this for years before I learned it was technically illegal," Nikola Jordan, a 33-year-old Nebraska voter, told the Associated Press. "It's all about encouraging other people to get involved in the process, to show it can be fun and exciting to make your voice heard [at the polls]."
Ballot selfies are now legal in Nebraska — but in other states, like Colorado, the photos qualify as a misdemeanor charge.
At least 16 states maintain that ballot selfies are illegal, but there is mounting opposition to these laws, centering on the infringement of First Amendment rights. For instance, an effort to ban the ballot selfie in New Hampshire was widely challenged — Snapchat and the American Civil Liberties Union even joined in — and was eventually turned down by a federal judge.
In most states, though, the laws governing cellphone usage and photos in the voting booth are still pretty muddy, and there is no specific verbiage allowing or banning the ballot selfie.
So if you’re feeling like you just can’t contain your phone camera trigger finger today, and want to ensure that you have complete legal freedom to do so, make sure to refer to the list below.
- Colorado: Ballot selfie ban overturned 11/05/2016
- Connecticut: No law bans ballot selfies
- District of Columbia: No law bans ballot selfies
- Hawaii: Voters allowed to share digital images of their ballots
- Idaho: No law bans ballot selfies
- Indiana: A law prohibiting ballot selfies was turned down last year
- Kansas: Legal, as of 11/07/2016
- Kentucky: No law bans ballot selfies
- Louisiana: No law bans ballot selfies (but several legislators are "not fond" of them)
- Maine: No law against voters taking photos of their ballots
- Massachusetts*: Law banning photographs overturned last year
- Minnesota: Photos allowed but can’t be shown to other voters at polling station
- Montana: No law bans ballot selfies
- Nebraska: A bill passed this year ended a $100 fine for taking a photo
- New Hampshire: A bill attempting to ban ballot selfies was rejected in court
- North Dakota: Photos inside polling places are allowed
- Oregon: No law bans mail-in ballot selfies
- Rhode Island: New law allows selfies inside polling places
- Utah: Ballot selfies are legal — but photographing others’ ballots is illegal
- Vermont: No law bans ballot selfies
- Virginia: Attorney general says ballot selfies are legal
- Washington: No law bans ballot selfies (but legislators are not fond of them)
- Wyoming: No laws bans ballot selfies
- Arizona: Photography banned within 75 feet of polling places, but early ballots can be shared on social media
- Arkansas: State law on sharing voter choices is ambiguous
- California: Law banning people from displaying their marked ballots will be repealed after the November election; current law is not strictly enforced
- Delaware: No cellphones allowed in the voting booth, but not strictly enforced
- Iowa: No phones allowed in the voting booth; photos of absentee ballots are okay
- Maryland: Electronic devices banned in polling place; photos of mailed ballots okay
- Ohio: Voters prohibited from showing others how they voted; selfies are unclear
- Oklahoma: 40-year-old state law suggests photos are illegal but result in no penalty
- Pennsylvania: Voters prohibited from showing others how they’re "about to vote"
- Tennessee: Voters prohibited from taking photos in polling places; photos of mail-in ballots are legally ambiguous
- Texas: Photography banned within 100 feet of polling places; taking a photo of a mail-in ballot is allowed under law
- West Virginia: Electronic devices outlawed inside voting booths; taking a photo of a mail-in ballot is not regulated under law
- Alabama: Absolutely no photos of ballots are allowed; voters have "a right to cast a ballot in secrecy and in private"
- Alaska: State law prohibits voters from showing marked ballots
- Florida: Photographs, either in a polling place or of a mail-in ballot, are banned
- Georgia: No photos of ballots (or voting screens) are allowed
- Illinois: Showing your marked ballot to another voter is a felony that can earn you one to three years in prison
- Michigan: Ban on ballot selfies upheld 10/30/2016
- Mississippi: Showing your marked ballot to another voter is illegal
- Missouri: Illegal, punishable by up to a $2,500 fine
- Nevada: Photographs, either in a polling place or of a mail-in ballot, are banned
- New Jersey: Showing your marked ballot to another voter is illegal
- New Mexico: Showing your marked ballot to another voter is illegal
- New York: Showing your marked ballot to another voter is illegal
- North Carolina: Photographing a marked ballot is illegal
- South Carolina: Photographing a marked ballot is illegal
- South Dakota: Illegal due to fear of voter coercion
- Wisconsin: Showing your marked ballot to another voter is illegal under state law
Note: This post has been updated to reflect recent changes in legislation, as of 11/08/2016.
*Note 2: We've been getting a lot of questions about the legality of ballot selfies in Massachusetts. According to the legal experts we spoke with, the New Hampshire ruling in September of 2016 also applies to Massachusetts.