Government

Ballot selfies are OK, but don't loiter at polling places

Voters sit at voting stations as they vote at the early polling station at the Coralville Public Library in Coralville, Iowa, on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Voters sit at voting stations as they vote at the early polling station at the Coralville Public Library in Coralville, Iowa, on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — When it comes to Election Day voting, you can wear your favorite candidate’s T-shirt to the polls or take a selfie. But the advice from the Secretary of State Office is get in, vote and move on.

People not at a polling place in an official capacity — poll workers or poll watchers, for example, are welcome to come in to vote, but then they should move on to make way for others and not interfere with voting.

“I can’t hang around the polling place all day just reading the newspaper, seeing what people are doing,” said Molly Widen, legal counsel to the Secretary of State’s Office. “If I’m not there in an official capacity, I need to be there for the purpose of voting. And once I cast my vote, I don’t have to go home, but I can’t stay there.”

Election Day, which is Tuesday, gives rise to myriad questions, according to Widen and Deputy Commissioner of Elections Ken Kline.

Electioneering

One of the most frequent questions, according to Kline, who was the Cerro Gordo County auditor for many years, is whether a voter can wear a T-shirt advertising a particular candidate or party.

“Voters can do that as long as they are there for voting and not openly promoting a particular party or candidate,” he said.

“But if you’re grinning at people and pointing at your T-shirt, that’s a little too much,” Widen said.

That would fall under the heading of “electioneering,” which is illegal in and around polling places, Widen said. “Electioneering” simply means to actively work to support a candidate or a party.

Examples of electioneering are handing out pamphlets, putting up signs or speaking to voters.

Campaign signs

One of the common questions Kline has heard has to do with people displaying campaign signs near polling places. For the most part, no electioneering is allowed within 300 feet of the exterior door of the polling place.

“So people ask, ‘If I live across from polling place and put a sign in my yard, is that OK?’ ” he said. The answer: If it is private property, the owner has the right to express his or her opinion.

“But if I put a big sign on my vehicle and park it outside the polling place, that’s not OK because that’s public property,” Kline said.

Selfies

A more recent question has to do with ballot selfies, Widen said.

“Yes, you can take a ballot selfie, but only in a way that is not interfering with anyone else,” she said. “Basically, be a good selfie taker and make sure you’re only taking a picture of yourself.”

“We have an obligation to protect the secrecy of each ballot,” Kline added.

In some areas, voters are encouraged to post pictures of themselves next to “Voter Here” signs or “I Voted” signs as an option to ballot selfies.

Also, Widen said, a voter cannot leave the voting area with a ballot.

Exit polling

Exit polling is allowed as long as the interviewer is approaching only voters who already havecast their ballots. Exit polling can be conducted within 300 feet of the polling place “because they are not advocating for a candidate or a position,” Widen said.

Iowa’s electioneering laws seem pretty straightforward, Widen and Kline said. Some states have unique statutes, such as Michigan’s ban on betting on the outcome of a political nomination, appointment of election. Also in Michigan, it is illegal for a religious leader to promise “religious disapproval” because of a voter’s election choice.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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