Iowa forbids 'ballot selfies' in voting booths

Take the photo outside or in the car after voting, officials suggest

Cast member Justin Timberlake poses at the premiere of
Cast member Justin Timberlake poses at the premiere of "Trolls" in Los Angeles, California U.S., October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo

CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa voters are being warned it’s illegal to take “ballot selfies” in the voting booth, but that doesn’t mean they have no opportunity to share their voting experience with friends.

Secrecy in the voting booth seems like a thing of the past for voters who want to share their daily lives on social media. But laws in many states, including Iowa, make it illegal to take a photo inside the voting booth.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said his office has had several questions about voters taking a smartphone picture of themselves casting their ballots. He acknowledges new technology and social media trends are challenging prohibitions on digital devices in voting booths.

“Our challenge as elections officials is to encourage participation but also to maintain the integrity of our elections process,” Pate said. “As much as we want to encourage enthusiastic voters, we need to remind them to refrain from taking photos of their ballots until we revisit and update Iowa law.”

Rather than snapping a photo in the polling place, suggest Joel Miller and Travis Weipert, county auditors in Linn and Johnson counties, respectively, document voting on the way out of the polling place.

“Take a selfie after you vote next to the ‘Vote Here’ sign,” Miller said.

“Take a picture when you get back in your car that shows your ‘I Voted’ sticker,” Weipert added.

It’s not an issue only in Iowa. Singer and actor Justin Timberlake made news this week when he posted a photo of himself voting on Instagram. In Tennessee, where he voted, a law bars voters from taking photos or video while they’re inside a polling location.

In 21 states and Washington, D.C., it is legal to take a photograph in the voting booth. It is explicitly illegal in 16 states, and violators can be fined or given jail time.

According to Iowa Code, phones are prohibited in the voting booth but photos of absentee ballots are allowed.

Some people argue that the practice of taking “ballot selfies” is protected as free speech. They say it boosts voter participation. One study of Facebook users found they are more inclined to vote after seeing their friends’ “ballot selfies” on social media.

However, opponents say “ballot selfies” could compromise elections by encouraging vote buying. A voter who is being paid to vote a certain way, for instance, could be required to post a selfie showing how he voted.

Federal courts have weighed in, striking down bans in New Hampshire and Indiana. A Michigan judge earlier this week blocked enforcement of a “ballot selfies” ban because it violates free speech.

However, Pate said voters may get a chance to share their experience without violating Iowa law. Some county auditors are setting up “selfie spots” at the polling sites where voters can use their cameras without running afoul of state law, “and we encourage that,” Pate said.

Auditors in Linn and Johnson counties aren’t planning on that because they expect polling places to be crowded. Lower early voting numbers this year suggest there could be Election Day lines at polling places.

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

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