DENVER — As early voting begins, election officials are ramping up their warnings against the increasingly popular practice of posting selfies with filled-in ballots on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.
Why? So-called “ballot selfies” are actually illegal in about 25 states, aimed at preventing political hacks from rewarding voters who can prove they cast their ballots for certain candidates.
With smartphones and selfies now ubiquitous, however, such laws are coming under fire by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which has argued that the selfie ban constitutes voter suppression.
In Colorado, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey drew the ire of the ACLU when he issued a reminder Thursday against posting shots of such ballots.
“Colorado law prohibits voters from showing their completed ballot to others,” Mr. Morrissey said in a statement. “This would include posting your completed ballot on social media.”
He noted that ballot selfies constitute a misdemeanor offense based on a state law aimed at guarding against voter fraud.
The ACLU of Colorado promptly called on Mr. Morrissey to retract his statement, describing it as a “misguided threat to prosecute voters for taking and sharing ‘ballot selfies.’”
“What is more dangerous about Mr. Morrissey’s announcement is the false implication that all voters are restricted from sharing information about their ballot with others, and the impact that could have on the elderly, people who are disabled, and non-English speaking voters at the polls,” said the ACLU in a Thursday statement.
The Colorado law, which dates back to the 1890s, comes as a throwback to the days when voters who showed a completed ballot could receive prizes such as free drinks.
“We have a law that says well you can’t prove to someone that you voted a particular way so that we protect the integrity of the election system,” Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams told 9News.
Violations of the law carry penalties of up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine, but Mr. Williams told CBS4 that he was unaware of anyone being prosecuted for posting a ballot selfie.
The courts have recently ruled in favor of challenges to the ban. A year ago, a federal judge blocked Indiana’s prohibition on ballot selfies, citing First Amendment concerns, while a federal appeals court overturned New Hampshire’s law last month.
“Legislation in seven additional states expressly authorizes ‘ballot selfies,’” said the ACLU of Colorado.
Not all election-related selfies are forbidden: Sharing photos of a blank or unopened ballot is permitted, as are shots of voters dropping off ballots in states like Colorado, which has all mail-in elections.
Enforcing such laws is clearly an uphill battle: With the Nov. 8 election still weeks away, a search of the hashtag #ballotselfie revealed multiple posts of people displaying both blank and filled-in ballots.
Advancing Colorado’s Jonathan Lockwood described the law as outdated, saying, “We should be encouraging participation in our democratic process, not stunning voters with threats of jail time or worse for posting a voter selfie.”
The Denver elections division followed up on social media by advising voters, “Don’t show the votes on your ballot but we actually encourage people to take shots of them putting sealed envelope in the ballot box.”