Metro-East News

So you know ... posting a voting selfie amounts to a felony in Illinois

In this file photo, provided by Bill Phillips, of Nashua, N.H., Phillips takes a selfie with his marked election ballot. Ballot selfies, where people use smart-phones to photograph and share their marked ballots online, are becoming more common, as voters young and old look to share their views with family, friends and the world. But what they don't realize is they may be breaking the law, depending on where they live. Illinois law prohibits taking a photo of a marked ballot.
In this file photo, provided by Bill Phillips, of Nashua, N.H., Phillips takes a selfie with his marked election ballot. Ballot selfies, where people use smart-phones to photograph and share their marked ballots online, are becoming more common, as voters young and old look to share their views with family, friends and the world. But what they don't realize is they may be breaking the law, depending on where they live. Illinois law prohibits taking a photo of a marked ballot. AP

You’ve made your way to the polls and are ready to cast your vote. Of course, you want everyone to know that you’re doing your civic duty, so you pull out your smartphone and snap a quick selfie while you’re in the booth.

In Illinois, you might want to think twice before you post that photo to Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram. Taking a photo of your marked ballot is more than a no-no, it’s against the law.

According to Illinois law, “knowingly” marking your ballot so another person can see it is actually a class 4 felony, which can carry a prison sentence of up to three years. Taking a photo of a marked ballot falls under that law.

If you are so excited that you just have to share your Election Day exploits with your friends, just be careful. The selfie police won’t be out, but you should be mindful of your fellow voters, according to one area prosecutor.

“The real problem with selfies is that innocent bystanders trying to vote in peace and privacy could be in the pic, and that could be perceived as harassing or intimidating to some,” St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly said. “We certainly don’t have the time or resources to be searching social media for voting selfies, but enthusiastic voters should use common sense, respect the seriousness of the voting process and stay off their cellphone. You can answer the text or tweet later.”

Kelly said his office has never had to prosecute a voting selfie case.

John McGuire, an assistant state’s attorney in Madison County, said Madison County officials “discourage voters from using their phones to take ‘selfie’ pictures or to take a photo of their completed (or partially completed) ballot. Doing so constitutes a violation of the Election Code. Other voters may find it disruptive within the polling place.”

McGuire said any complaints would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. He said there has never been a voting selfie case in Madison County.

Ballot-booth selfies have been in the news leading up to the Nov. 8 election. Early voting is available in many states, including Illinois. Pop star Justin Timberlake made news a few days ago when he took a ballot selfie while voting in Tennessee. Like in Illinois, it’s against the law to take a ballot selfie in Tennessee.

Timberlake could have faced a 30-day jail term or a whopping $50 fine, which wouldn’t have hurt Timberlake, who is estimated to be worth $230 million. Officials said they won’t prosecute Timberlake, who took down the photo and said he did it in an attempt to encourage others to vote.

The Associated Press found that such photos are allowed in 19 states, including Missouri, but they are illegal in 18 states, including Illinois. The law is vague in other states. On Twitter, those who want to share their selfies are doing so by using the hashtag #ballotselfie.

As technology advances, so, too, will the laws surrounding the ballot selfie. A federal court earlier this year ruled that New Hampshire’s ballot selfie ban was unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment.

When you go vote, maybe wait until you’re done and show off your “I Voted” sticker. It could save you some headaches in the long run.

Don O'Brien: 618-239-2626, @DOBrienBND

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