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Is it illegal to instagram your ballot in California?

Voters fill out ballots at the McDonald's Play Room in Hollywood on November 6th, 2012.
Mae Ryan/KPCC
Voters fill out ballots at the McDonald's Play Room in Hollywood on November 6th, 2012. Photographing polling places is okay - but California has laws against photographing marked ballots.

Many of you have posted pictures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to prove that you voted in Tuesday's election. But, snapping a photo of your completed voter ballot – or taking one inside a polling place at all – is illegal in many states.

California hasn’t traditionally enforced the ban, but you could face fines or jail time for taking that picture.

Cal. Elec. Code § 18541(a)(3) "explicitly prohibits, within 100 feet of a polling place, [p]hotograph[ing], video record[ing], or otherwise record[ing] a voter entering or exiting a polling place." 

Jeff Hermes is director of the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard. He provides a state-by state  breakdown of which states allow voters to record inside polling places. 

“This is a case of a law which is on the books for what appear to be some legitimate reasons, but which has some potentially unforeseen circumstances in the digital age," Hermes said. "Now, mind you, most of these statutes were passed at times when it wouldn’t have been an easy thing for somebody to take a picture of a ballot and then disclose that image later.”

Hermes said the main reason states have enacted laws to ban voters from taking photos of their marked ballots is because of a concern about “vote purchasing” – in which the picture could serve as proof if you get paid for your vote. 

"These statues were probably more intended to address the situation where somebody is displaying the ballot itself - the physical document, in the polling place on the way to depositing it. But the terms of the statutes don't specify that in many cases," Hermes said. "It simply says a voter shall not show a marked ballot to any person in such way to reveal its contents. The law itself doesn't say that it stops applying after you've voted or after the polls have closed." 

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen issued a statement this election about the issue of recording inside polling places:

"The Secretary of State's office has historically taken the position that the use of cameras or video equipment at polling places is prohibited, though there may be circumstances where election officials could permit such use. For example, if a credentialed media organization wants to photograph or film a candidate voting at a polling place, this is something you may permit, provided you ensure such activity does not interfere with voting, is not intimidating to any voters or election workers and that the privacy of voters is not compromised."