If you voted in the midterm elections, but didn’t post about it on social media, did it really happen? Yes. Obviously. Still, the pull of the voting selfie is strong.
Right now, Instagram is awash with photos of people wearing “I Voted” stickers, while famous people (Michelle Obama, the Rock, Kim Kardashian, et al.) are encouraging their millions of followers to get out to the polls. Taylor Swift, who recently broke her longstanding political silence to endorse two Tennessee Democrats, has asked fans to tag her in their voting selfies and is reposting them on her Instagram story. The New York-based brand Wray is offering 20 percent discounts to anyone who sends in their sticker photos; J.Crew is doing the same in stores.
Maybe you want to post a voting picture because you’re excited to participate in our political system and want to motivate your friends and family to do the same. Maybe you’re worried that if you don’t post a selfie, people will assume you didn’t vote. Maybe you really want that 20 percent discount!
Whatever your reason, it’s worth taking note of voting selfie laws before you pull out your phone. The rules vary state by state, and to complicate things somewhat, many differentiate between taking photos of your completed ballot and snapping a picture at or in close proximity to your polling location.
CNN and the New York Times both offer thorough guides to the rules. States like Florida, Georgia, and Michigan prohibit photography inside polling booths and in polling locations. Others — like Alaska, Massachusetts, and Minnesota — ban photos of completed ballots but don’t say anything about taking pictures in polling booths. States including California, Kentucky, and New Hampshire are fine with selfies at polling locations, though many of them discourage it or prohibit taking photos of other people voting.
Why does it matter whether you post a voting selfie? A 2014 lawsuit illustrates the case for and against the legality of ballot photos. That year, the ACLU of New Hampshire argued that the state’s ban on taking and posting ballot pictures was a violation of the First Amendment. The state had recently updated its longstanding law against taking photos of ballots to include not putting them on social media, a rule that was meant to curb voter intimidation and vote buying.
In that case, the court sided with the ACLU. New Hampshire appealed the ruling, and in 2016, the First Circuit Court of Appeals again deemed the law a First Amendment violation.
While bans on voting selfies aren’t the easiest thing to enforce, several high-profile figures have come under fire for posting pictures of their ballots. In 2016, Justin Timberlake removed an Instagram photo that he took at his polling location in Memphis. (A few days ago, he posted a photo with his absentee ballot in an envelope and reminded followers not to selfie in their polling booths.) Just this summer, three Florida politicians posted photos on social media of completed ballots, reportedly unaware that they were breaking the law.
Long story short, it’s probably safest to take a photo with your “I Voted” sticker when you’re well out of range of your polling station. Besides, you can definitely find better light outside a middle school gymnasium.