U.S. Senate Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes is pro-selfie, anti-ballot sharing. 

Smile for Ballot Selfies

Kirsten Salyer writes about consumer culture for Bloomberg View and is the site's engagement editor. She has also written for Condé Nast Traveler, Texas Monthly and Houston Community Newspapers. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism and international studies from Northwestern University.
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You can take a selfie with Hillary Clinton or a great white shark or a Nazi concentration camp or wild bears. But if you're tempted to take a selfie with your completed ballot on Election Day, think twice: In many states, it's illegal.

At least two-thirds of states prohibit taking photos or film of your marked ballot, according to the Digital Media Law Project. In theory, the bans protect voter privacy and discourage vote selling (because, without a photo, proof is hard to come by).

The problem: Such rules are essentially unenforceable today. Prosecution would require monitoring how voters use camera phones at the polls and what they post to social networks. And forget about keeping track of voters submitting mail-in ballots.

In New Hampshire, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit to overturn the state's ban on ballot selfies, which prohibits digital images and their distribution via social media. The lawsuit argues that ballot selfies are political speech protected by the First Amendment.

If nothing else, the suit might educate state voters, who have a tendency to break the law. New Hampshire State Representative Leon Rideout this year posted a photo of his completed primary ballot to Twitter -- to "make a statement," he said. A former police officer also shared his ballot, writing in the name of his deceased dog, Akira, for U.S. senator, according to Boston.com.

Yet ballot selfies might actually be good for democracy. Voters are increasingly connected to candidates and campaigns through social media. According to a recent Pew Research study, 16 percent of registered voters follow candidates on social media, up 6 percent from 2010. Politicians have caught on: Many have been asking social media followers to share their voting stories on Twitter.

Knowing that your friends are voting puts social pressure on you to vote, too. In 2010, Facebook placed buttons with various versions of "I'm voting" on the pages of about 60 million Americans. A study published in Nature in 2012 found that it increased voter turnout in the 2010 election by more than 300,000 nationally. Today, almost every Facebook user in the U.S. will see the "I voted" button.

If ballot selfies encourage Americans to vote, I'm all smiles. There shouldn't be any limits to sharing democracy.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the editor on this story:
Frank Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net