Breaking the Law: Photos from the Voting Booth

Is it illegal to Instagram pictures of your vote?

This being 2012, voters are taking to Instagram and Facebook to post photos they’ve taken inside of polling places and even inside of the voting booth, finger on the “Obama” or “Romney” button. And, this being 2012, people have taken to Twitter to complain about how this is illegal. But is it?

Good question. Yesterday, I asked it of Committee of Seventy president and CEO Zack Stalberg, who wasn’t exactly sure. And today, in the midst of all this election chaos in Philadelphia, I asked Seventy spokesperson Joe Grace. “I don’t know,” he told me, adding that he’d look into it.

According to the Citizen Media Law Project, “Pennsylvania has no state statute expressly prohibiting the use of cameras or video equipment inside or outside of polling places.”

But as for taking photos of the vote being made inside the booth, here’s what the CMLP says: “Section 3530 of Title 25 of the Pennsylvania Statutes restricts activities that may reveal the contents of a voter’s ballot. This provision makes it a misdemeanor for a voter to ‘allow his ballot or the face of the voting machine voted by him to be seen by any person with apparent intention of letting it be known how he is about to vote.'”

The CMLP goes on: “This language does not cover posting an image of one’s own marked ballot on the Internet after voting, but it would likely cover streaming live video at the time of voting. Section 3530 also prohibits ‘endeavor[ing] to induce any elector before depositing his ballot to show how he marks or has marked his ballot.’  This makes it unlawful to photograph or film other voters in such a way that might reveal the contents of their ballots.”

I called Montgomery County Assistant Solicitor David Robinson to get his take. “The state says that this is a completely confidential endeavor,” says Robinson. “The voting machines are designed to protect the privacy of the voter. There’s nothing in the statute that mentions that the voter is able to waive his privacy. As far as taking pictures of a ballot and posting it, there are many potential legal issues, especially if the vote is contested. I would advise the county, if we were asked if it was permitted, that we would strongly advise against it. But there is no specific county law in place.”

According to Joe “I don’t give out my last name” at the Election Bureau in Delaware County, voters in Delco “are not supposed to have their phones or cameras inside of election booths at all. The Delaware County Board of Election passed that law.” In Chester County, Voter Services Director Jim Forsythe told his assistant to tell me, “You’re prohibited here by county law.” The folks in Bucks County couldn’t give me an immediate answer. And here in Philadelphia, well, there’s been a busy signal at the local election office for the last two hours, so it’s anybody’s guess.

Meanwhile, if you’re in New York, Gothamist says, “Did you document your vote? See you in jail!”