Election Officials Warn Voters About Polling Place Selfies

Oct 26, 2016

A prosecutor in Tennessee backed off a statement he made earlier in the day yesterday in which he said he was considering whether Justin Timberlake should be prosecuted for taking a selfie in a voting booth.  Tennessee last year made it a misdemeanor crime, punishable with a one-month jail sentence, to use a phone in a polling place for anything other than looking up information. 

Susan Whitsitt was so excited about voting early at the Bloomington Election Commission office, she took a selfie by a sign just outside the voting area which election officials recommend to avoid violating Illinois election law.
Credit Colleen Reynolds / WGLT

The polling place selfie is something a half-dozen states allow but Illinois is not among them.  In fact, McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael says knowingly marking your ballot so another person can see it is a felony that carries of prison sentence of one to three years.  Michael trains election judges to make sure photography is not allowed while someone is voting and she says it is a growing concern, especially among student precincts at Illinois State University.

The clerk understands enthusiasm, especially among first-time voters in a presidential election. "It is a great experience that, with our social media, you'll want to record.  So, let's suggest that you take a selfie outside the polling place or before you vote," she advised.

Not A Federal Offense
There is no federal law that forbids voters from posting a picture of a completed ballot online so it is a state-by-state issue.  The State Board of Elections General Counsel Ken Menzel said some voters are intimidated enough at a polling place and photography only adds to their apprehension. 

"I would discourage any photography inside a polling place, " he said.  Menzel points out there is a lot of talk lately on college campuses of making sure there's a safe space for people to speak their minds so he adopted the same language. "Let's make sure polling places are a safe space." 

Menzel said while technically a vote-revealing selfie is a violation of state election law he added, "I don't think there is a significant likelihood of being prosecuted for it without other factors coming into play."