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Voters Beware: Your Ballot Selfie Is Illegal In Most States

Angela Evancie
Voters cast their ballots at the Williston Armory on Tuesday. Vermont law does not expressly forbid ballot box selfies.

Attention, voters from New Hampshire — and over 30 other states. If you go to the polls this election, take a selfie of yourself and your marked ballot, and share it with others (for example, on Twitter or Facebook) you could be fined $1,000.

The recently updated New Hampshire law has riled the American Civil Liberties Union, which is challenging it in court. The law’s supporters argue that it curbs voter corruption and coercion. But banning the display of a photograph, opponents say, doesn’t attack those problems head-on. New Hampshire ACLU Staff Attorney Gilles Bissonnette  says the law merely muzzles voters who want to express themselves about the votes they have cast.

“The correct response to corruption,” Bissonnette says, “is to criminalize and investigate it, not violate free speech.” He says the New Hampshire ACLU has combed through documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, and has found little evidence of voter corruption by sharing or displaying marked ballots.

So the New Hampshire ACLU is suing the state on behalf of early voters who have allegedly broken the election law and are being investigated by the New Hampshire State Attorney General's Office.  One plaintiff, Leon Rideout, is a lawmaker who opposed the law's passage. Another, Andrew Langlois, is a citizen who wrote in the name of his deceased dog as his Republican choice for the U.S. Senate. Sharing that on social media, Langlois says, is an act of political protest permitted by the Constitution.

So what about Vermonters? May they take photos of their ballots and post them on social media? Yes, apparently, if they do so after they cast their ballots, not before. Vermont law does not expressly forbid ballot box selfies. But according to the state’s Elections Director, Will Senning, there is a little-known statute still on the books that “provides for punishment of a fine up to $1,000 for a voter that ‘ . . . allows his ballot to be seen by another person with an apparent intention of letting it be known how he or she is about to vote.’”

Vermont ALCU Director Allen Gilbert says he’s never heard of any Vermonters getting punished for revealing how they voted as they walked from the voting booth to the ballot machine. Laws like that, Gilbert speculates,  are a throwback to another era more rife with corruption “when political bosses demanded proof from their minions that they had voted the right way before they could collect their free drink or dinner.” Gilbert says in some states it was even illegal for restaurants to offer free drinks or dinners on Election Day.

On that point, the New Hampshire law is silent.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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