Voting Day internetiquette: "Can I instagram my ballot?"

Is it legal to photograph and share a copy of your voting ballot online? The answer depends on a bunch of things, including what state you're in, whether you've completed the ballot, and whether you actually bring your mobile device into the voting booth. The law varies widely.

In Washington, DC, you can indeed legally "instagram the vote." Like this fellow did. But elsewhere, doing what he did is against the law and may make it so that your vote cannot be counted.

The Citizen Media Law Project reports that in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, Texas and West Virginia, there are laws banning photography or videography in polling places.

In North Carolina, the law is even more restrictive: the basic idea seems to be no smartphones in the voting booth.

The idea is that photographing your ballot nullifies the whole secret ballot principle, but there's also an applicable North Carolina law that attempts to prevent people contacting other people for direction on how to vote. One could certainly do that with a smartphone in the booth.

“This being the 21st century and me having a notoriously short memory, I wrote my choices down on my smartphone,” one man told a local TV news reporter via email.

When he got into the voting booth, he took out his iPhone to consult his list. But before he even opened his notes, he says, a poll worker was at his side, insisting he would have to put the phone away before he would be allowed to complete his ballot.

“After attempting to recall from memory my choices for Council of State and judge positions to no success, I felt like I was being denied my right to vote because I was not allowed to use my smart phone,” said Bell.

Angry and frustrated, Bell says he told election officials he wanted to withdraw his ballot until he could memorize the candidates he wanted to support.

In Ohio, generally smartphones are allowed in the voting booth.

Snip from Dayton Daily News:

Ohio law allows voters to use tablets or smartphones in polling places, said Matt McClellan, spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted. “You could go in with your phone and use that if you have a slate card or a list of how you want to vote,” McClellan said.

Election officials in Montgomery, Greene, Warren, Clark and Butler counties said they will allow the use of smartphone and tablet slate cards in the voting booth, with some limitations. Voters will be asked to silence their cell phones, and will be prohibited from using them for telephone conversations or taking photographs at polling locations.

“You want an informed voter,” said Llyn McCoy, Greene County Board of Elections deputy director. “If this is how they are getting their information and they are taking it in so they vote the way they want to, I think it is a great thing.”

Gizmodo has an extensive list of laws by state. And ProPublica has more context.

For examples of people being really dumb and boasting about their vote by instagramming their ballot, I suggest you use instagram's "explore" feature and search for #vote #voted #voting or #ballot.

(Thanks, Aileen Graef!)


  1. They allow you to use your smartphone or whatever in Ohio because the counts are already registered in the voting machines, so it really doesn’t matter which buttons you press. 

  2. “make it so that your vote cannot be counted.”

    Does this mean somebody in Florida will go into the ballot box and subtract exactly one (1) vote from Candidate X’s account?!

  3. So then a penis pic of said penis slapping the ballot to indicate your vote is MOST illegal in North Carolina, but likely in other jurisdictions as well. 

    1. It’s a good thing that’s not allowed. If it were, I’m pretty sure come January we’d be swearing in President Picture of My Penis. Besides the embarrassment of being a country ruled by a penis picture, The picture’s simultaneous election to the House and Senate in addition to the Presidency would break the Separation of Powers.

      More seriously, I was a little annoyed about HI’s “no smartphones” thing. It would be nice to have the ‘phone a friend’ option on ballot initiatives — they don’t get nearly the coverage they deserve and in the thick of things it’s a bit difficult to understand exactly what they’re asking to get away with.

  4. hey any …fine person that decides to vote for romney should know that voting via facebook and/or twitter is the easiest way to secure our future!    ((yeah yeah… i know, dirty tricks is the way of the other side))

    1.  HAHAHAHA!!!!  I TOTALLY LOL’D AT THIS!  YOU SIR ARE A COMIC GENIUS!!!!!!!  FACEBOOK!!  ROMNEY VOTERS THEY’RE SO DUMB!!  HAHA.  I need to catch my breath.  Oh, thank you, guy.  Thanks for the thousand laughs.

  5. Allowing smart phones into the voting booth is obviously a terrible idea. If your candidate/local mob boss/employer/church can insist on photographic proof of your vote, they will. (They won’t necessarily all insist on the same outcome, either.)

    “After attempting to recall from memory my choices for Council of State and judge positions to no success, I felt like I was being denied my right to vote because I was not allowed to use my smart phone.”  Did he never consider writing his choices on a piece of paper? Or his hand? There are inexpensive implements available that allow that. Kids today.

  6. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.  Or, another way to say it:  Isn’t the satisfaction one derives from transmitting your vote less than the satisfaction one derives from the protection of the secret vote?  Is the secret ballot something to protest?

    Or, another way to say it:  What are you trying to gain by Instag… by transmitting your vote?

    I’m trying to figure this out, truly.  By broadcasting your ballot, what’s to be gained?  Friends?  Seriously.  Why would anyone do this, when god already invented bumperstickers?

  7. You all (by which, I mean, Americans) should seriously consider whether you don’t vote for too many things at once. The WRAL story of the NC fellow who couldn’t memorize his voting decisions… seriously, where else in the world could this possibly be necessary? When I vote in a national election, I have to memorize a grand total of one name.

    1. In america you have on the ballot … lets see, top to bottom:

      state reps
      county mayor where applicable
      council people where applicable
      town/city mayor
      school board
      judges even though everybody votes them back in unless there’s a scandal they’re too stupid to resign from
      state initiatives 
      -then county
      –city if there was any

      aaand I’m sure I’m forgetting something

      1. Sheriff
        District Attorney
        Water Board
        Power Board
        Dog Catcher, etc.

        Plus state and local initiatives in places like California.  It would be unusual to have less than 20 sections on the ballot and not unheard of to have more than 50.

        That’s why they send a sample ballot so that you can mark it up and use it when you fill in the real one.

    2. In India, I believe, they have pictures of candidates on ballot papers as many electors are unable to read. It would work just as well for those with a poor memory for names with much improved opportunities for photoshopping, instagramming, etc.

  8. I can see why electronic devices should be banned from the voting booth.  What if you were about to push that button, and suddenly your phone rang, and it was Karl Rove, and he says he’s totally going to kill an adorable animal, a kitten maybe, if you don’t vote for Romney, or maybe it was a scary black man with a stick who just glared over the phone and made you want to run away, and you ended up not voting at all and because you live in a swing state the whole damn election depends on your ONE VOTE (and all the other people they called while they were in the voting booth)?  The fate of the nation hangs in the balance!

  9. So when I voted today, in Atlanta, GEORGIA, the TV news was inside the polling place filming the long lines (I was there for two hours).

    So, there’s that.

    And also:  “Can I instagram my ballot?”

    Not if it’s that one. No. Not at all.

  10. At least here in Michigan, you can go to a website which will give you an exact replica of the ballot.  Just print that out and photograph it.

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