Are 'ballot selfies' legal? Depends where you are voting, it's punishable in some states

Josh Peter, USA TODAY
·3 min read

While the winner of the presidential election Tuesday remains a mystery, you can count on this: “Ballot selfies” will be snapped at the polls.

It’s a growing phenomenon – voters posing with their marked ballots, then posting the selfies on social media – that carries some risk.

California, Colorado and New Hampshire are among more than 20 states where it’s legal to take a ballot selfie. But in Illinois, it’s punishable by up to three years in prison.

According to information from The Associated Press and CNN, ballot selfies are illegal in the following states:

  • Georgia

  • Illinois

  • Massachusetts

  • Missouri

  • Nevada

  • New Jersey

  • New York

  • North Carolina

  • Ohio

  • South Carolina

It would be wise to check the law if you plan to take a ballot selfie in Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

The laws in these states aren't clear, and in some cases – like Tennessee and West Virginia – legislation may have been introduced or the existing ones are contradictory.

More: In what states it's illegal or illegal to take a ballot selfie

You're in the clear if you're taking ballot selfies in the following locations, according to the Associated Press, CNN and other published sources:

  • Alabama

  • Arkansas

  • California

  • Colorado

  • Connecticut

  • Florida

  • Hawaii

  • Kansas

  • Kentucky

  • Louisiana

  • Maine

  • Michigan

  • Montana

  • Nebraska

  • New Hampshire

  • New Mexico

  • North Dakota

  • Oklahoma

  • Oregon

  • Rhode Island

  • Utah

  • Vermont

  • Virginia

  • Washington

  • Wyoming

  • Washington D.C.

Why are 'ballot selfies' illegal in some states?

In some cases, state laws ostensibly designed to prevent bribery and voter coercion ended up prohibiting ballot selfies. But the practice is on the rise.

It’s a byproduct of the age of social media, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“The explosion of social media and ‘selfie’ culture has also challenged the traditional thinking that voters should not disclose how they voted,’’ the NCSL wrote. “Many young people, who share everything on social media, find it logical that they should be able to share a photo of their voted ballot with friends and followers.’’

But it might be risky for the ballot-selfie takers to mess with Texas, which is one of a few states that bans the use of cellphones at a poll site.

Still, it’s hard to find published reports of violators being prosecuted – even when the moment goes viral.

In 2016, Justin Timberlake took a photo of himself casting a ballot inside a voting booth in Tennessee and then posted the photo on his Instagram site.

Timberlake, who owns property in Nashville, faced 30 days in jail and $50 fine, but authorities let it go. Elsewhere, the ballot selfie has gained legal protection.

More: Justin Timberlake's voting selfie may have broken the law

In 2016, a federal appeals court in New Hampshire ruled a statewide ban against ballot selfies was unconstitutional. The challenge ended when the U.S. Supreme Court declined the state’s request for an appeal.

Jennifer Fresques takes a selfie before inserting her ballot into an official ballot drop box Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Salt Lake City.
Jennifer Fresques takes a selfie before inserting her ballot into an official ballot drop box Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Salt Lake City.

In Pennsylvania, where state laws prohibit ballot selfies, state officials released before the 2016 election guidelines noting courts had ruled in favor of ballot selfies being a protected right.

That said, those same officials recommended the selfies be taken after voters leave the sites.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Voting: Are ballot selfies illegal? Can I take pictures at the polls?