Is It Illegal To Instagram Your Completed Ballot?
This seems to be the burning question this afternoon on Twitter, as people post images of their ballots with Obama or Romney ovals completed as instructed. Gizmodo and others are on it, and our local journalists are smelling a story. After all, the County Executive Tweeted a picture of part of his ballot.
The law everyone is citing is Election Law section 17-130(10). It reads:
Any person who…[s]hows his ballot after it is prepared for voting, to any person so as to reveal the contents, or solicits a voter to show the same…is guilty of a misdemeanor.
First of all, no one is prosecuted under this section. In my review of the times in which this statute has been cited by New York State Courts, the only such case dates from 1979 where a person’s provisional ballot was invalidated because he put his name on it; (that violates subsection 11 of the statute). That’s it.
The reason why the law exists? To prevent people from selling their votes; offering to vote a particular way, and having to show the completed ballot to the payor as proof before payment is made. It also exists to prevent intimidation of voters or otherwise violating the secrecy of the vote. However, the statute has not been updated to make it a misdemeanor to photograph one’s ballot for any purpose, or to show the photograph – only to show the ballot itself.
So, Instagram the shit out of your ballot, and don’t worry about it being invalidated or about you being arrested. After all, political speech is offered the highest protection of all speech, and what’s more political than Tweeting a picture of your ballot. I’d wish the authorities good luck in overcoming the 1st Amendment challenge to that misdemeanor charge.