Is Your Ballot Selfie Legal?

This is the state of California. What do you think?

When Justin Timberlake almost but not really got in trouble for sharing a pic from the voting booth, it raised some questions we as a nation had never raised before we all started carrying cameras in our pockets that can transmit photos to the entire world. Questions such as: Damn, JT, you made early voting cool, is there anything you can’t do? And: Are voting booth selfies even legal?

I called the California Secretary of State’s office, and I learned a few things, which I will share with you because that’s generally how this works.

  • It is illegal to take any photos in polling places unless you’re a member of the press.
  • Taking a photo of your ballot and sharing it is illegal. The pro-selfie ACLU took the state to federal court this week to try to get the ban on sharing photos of marked ballots lifted, but a judge denied the ACLU. A new law (AB 1494), passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown legalizes ballot selfies, but it does not go into effect until 2017.

Michael Risher, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, says sharing selfies is “core political speech” that lets people tell others how they are voting and encourages others to vote the same way. Secretary of State Alex Padilla has said his office is prepared to enforce the law come Election Day. Padilla supports AB 1494, which overturned a 125-year ban barring voters from showing anyone their marked ballots. But that law does not go into effect until January 1.

Voting laws vary from state to state. California is one of 18 states that currently bans the sharing photos of voter ballots.

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