Thousands of enthusiastic voters – including celebrities such as Beyonce and Fox News host Sean Hannity —shared their choice for president with pictures or video of their ballot.
Whether using Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr or Twitter, many voters are unsuspectingly breaking laws instituted to prevent vote buying and coercion. The rules were created in the years before the advent of the internet and also at a time in the past when vote-buying was rife. There is also concern people can be swayed by how others vote.
Laws do vary from state to state. Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, Texas and West Virginia simply forbid recording devices in voting areas.
In New York State, it's a misdemeanor to show your ballot to any person after it's been filled out. Fortunately for Beyonce and Hannity, who voted in that state, the New York Board of Elections has said it’s not illegal to photograph your ballot and post it.
In many states, if you are caught photographing or filming your ballot, your ballot is confiscated.
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One voter in North Carolina had a frustrating experience, according to WRAL TV.
Brad Bell had a list of candidates for council of state and judicial races that he wanted to vote for listed on his smartphone.
When he went in to vote in an early poll, an official told him he had to put the phone away before marking his ballot and simply try to memorize the names as he voted. Bell was allowed to step away and write the names on a piece of paper.
Don Wright, general counsel for the State Board of Elections in North Carolina, says the ban on recording devices is important. Wright says a vote-buying scheme a few years ago asked voters to take pictures of their ballot to prove they had “earned” their payment.
The penalties can be stiff. For instance, in Colorado, you can be slapped a fine of up to $1000, sent to county jail for not more than one year — or both. In Wisconsin, it’s a felony.
So far, there haven’t been any reports of individuals being charged or arrested for sharing their ballot over the internet.
Fred Woodhams, a spokesman for the Michigan department of state, told ProPublica that his state isn’t scouring the net for violations: “We’re not going to Instagram to find people’s ballots.”
Some constitutional experts have said that the act itself could be protected by the First Amendment – taking a visual reminder of your vote is a way of expressing your experience and feelings.
Josh Stearns of Free Press told ProPublica that he didn’t think there’s a difference between displaying your ballot and wearing a t-shirt supporting your candidate.
A Pew survey found that that 22 per cent of the 1,011 people, interviewed between Nov. 1 and Nov. 4, said they’d shared their voting decision online, mostly on Twitter or Facebook.
One state seems to be going with that wave. In 2011, Maine repealed its ban on voters showing their own ballots.