It’s another big election year in the United States (the midterms), so you know what that means: people across the country will be taking photos of their completed ballots and posting them on Instagram and other social media websites. We saw it happen a lot during the 2012 election. But as was the case back then, and long before photo-sharing apps even existed, taking photos of a completed ballot actually remains illegal in many parts of the US. Why? Because lawmakers over the years have sought to protect the sanctity and anonymity of the voting booth, as well as prevent tampering and undue influence on a person’s vote (that is, people feeling pressured to vote a certain way outside their own independent conclusions — read more about the topic in this excellent guide from the Digital Media Law Project). So in many cases, people who post photos of their completed ballots online are technically at risk of getting steep fines and having their votes invalidated.
But not if the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire gets its way. The non-profit citizen rights’ organization recently sued the New Hampshire state government to overturn that state’s ban on photographing and posting completed ballots, as Boston.com reports. New Hampshire recently updated its law to specifically outlaw digital photos of filled-out ballots, with fines up to $1,000 per violation. Already this year, at least three New Hampshire residents have reportedly been investigated by the attorney general for posting ballot photos on social media, including one former police officer who filled out his ballot with his dead dog’s name. If the ACLU succeeds, it could finally legalize a common form of political participation and civic engagement. As the ACLU writes in its suit filing: “Displaying a photograph of a marked ballot on the Internet is a powerful form of political speech that conveys various constitutionally-protected messages that have no relationship to vote buying or voter coercion.”