Wisconsin Warns: If You Tweet Photos Of Your Completed Ballot, You Can Go To Jail

from the civic-pride-and-handcuffs dept

It's election day, of course, and with that comes some amount of civic pride among a number of voters. That's a good thing, for the most part, and in this era of social media and people sharing photos and videos about their lives, plenty of people are sharing imagery of their own ballot. Perfectly reasonable, right? Well, yes, except when that runs into laws designed to keep your ballots secret. There are, of course, good intentions behind such laws. But mixed in with all those local laws concerning camera usage inside a polling place are some that could cause trouble for people doing something quite ordinary. For example, it appears that people in Wisconsin who decide to Instagram/Tweet/Facebook an image of their ballots, have committed a class I felony, election fraud. And this doesn't appear to just be a law that the state is going to ignore either. It's been issuing warnings to people that they could face felony charges if they do post those photos. Undoubtedly, many will be unaware that they're committing election fraud when they thought they were just showing civic pride. One hopes that officials in Wisconsin, and other states, take the context into account before moving forward with any legal responses.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Atkray (profile), Nov 6th, 2012 @ 11:03am

    "One hopes that officials in Wisconsin, and other states, take the context into account before moving forward with any legal responses."

    I suspect that will be largely influenced by the outcome.

     

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    DannyB (profile), Nov 6th, 2012 @ 11:09am

    One hopes that officials in Wisconsin, and other states, take the context into account before moving forward with any legal responses.
    Oh, pirate Mike -- why are you always trying to defend people who break the law and hope they are not prosecuted with a reasonable penalty such as having their head cut off and then hanged by the neck?

     

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      Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Nov 6th, 2012 @ 1:31pm

      Re:

      prosecuted with a reasonable penalty such as having their head cut off and then hanged by the neck?
      Only if there is a similarly harsh punishment for deviating from that exact sentence - Merchant of Venice anyone? :-)

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 4:31pm

      Re:

      Because it is bloody difficult to stop the noose sliding off if they've already been beheaded.

       

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    DannyB (profile), Nov 6th, 2012 @ 11:11am

    I had my ballot in my hands last week

    I had my ballot in my hands at my kitchen table last week*. If I had photographed it, posted it (I do NOT use Facebook), would I then be breaking some election law?

    Would it matter if I had filled it out or not?

    Would Google be somehow at fault for this?

    * yes really. And my ballot was turned in early.

     

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    John Doe, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 11:32am

    Election fraud?

    I thought election fraud was manipulating other peoples vote; how is posting a photo of your vote fraud?

     

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      Alex Macfie (profile), Nov 6th, 2012 @ 11:49am

      Re: Election fraud?

      Allowing your vote to be manipulated for personal gain is also illegal. Voting secrecy is not just a matter of private personal right: it is about maintaining the integrity of the ballot itself. Therefore, it is illegal to be a willing participant in any vote manipulation process, even if it is your own vote being manipulated.

       

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        Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Nov 6th, 2012 @ 1:35pm

        Re: Re: Election fraud?

        Am I missing something from not being familar with US election law or perhaps I'm just having trouble following the logic late at night? Are you suggesting it might tamper with an election to send a picture of how you voted to someone, but telling a pollster how you voted as long as you are a legally mandated distance from the polling station doesn't?

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 1:42pm

          Re: Re: Re: Election fraud?

          Telling someone how you voted = you can lie and very few are going to participate in vote buying knowing that you can lie about your vote.

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 1:43pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Election fraud?

            There is difference between telling someone how you voted and providing evidence showing how you voted.

             

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              btr1701 (profile), Nov 7th, 2012 @ 11:16am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Election fraud?

              > There is difference between telling someone
              > how you voted and providing evidence showing
              > how you voted.

              But the whole absentee process pretty much renders this law unenforceable anyway.

              If someone's buying votes, they'll just get their customers to vote absentee, then show them the proof in the privacy of their homes and offices before they mail them in.

               

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        DannyB (profile), Nov 6th, 2012 @ 2:42pm

        Re: Re: Election fraud?

        A photograph of your ballot does not somehow tamper with your ballot, nor the ballot of any other voter.

        Suppose I didn't photograph my ballot but merely told everyone that I voted for Mickey Mouse instead of Darth Vader? That would have about the same effect. Would it be illegal?

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 4:34pm

          Re: Re: Re: Election fraud?

          A photo of a completed ballot is pretty decent proof of how you voted (yes, I know you can spoil it and ask for a new one), which makes photographing a ballot a useful part of selling your vote.

           

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 11:58am

      Re: Election fraud?

      Because you can use this to prove who you voted for, proving that yes, you cast your vote just like you were paid to do.

       

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        DannyB (profile), Nov 6th, 2012 @ 2:45pm

        Re: Re: Election fraud?

        Maybe you're not paid to vote a certain way, but threatened.

        You better vote for Darth Vader instead of Mickey Mouse or something bad might happen. (We might force you to use Apple Maps.)

        I can see your point though. If anyone can take a photo, then it can be used to prove to the extortionist (or vote purchaser) how you voted. So just don't allow photos or any kind of proof of how you voted in order to protect the integrity of the system.

         

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        That One Guy (profile), Nov 6th, 2012 @ 3:46pm

        Re: Re: Election fraud?

        Actually, assuming the politicians were thinking when they made the law, if that's the reason it would seem to be a very sound one.

        So if that's the case, though it might seem a little overboard, I'd have to agree with the whole 'making it a felony' bit, as otherwise it would be far too simple for the powerful to game the system.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 11:32am

    It is illegal in many places for a reason, as it can be used to claim bribe for voting in an agreed fashion. Use of social networks just make it harder to detect vote buying. If this is allowed then buying votes becomes easy.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 11:33am

    For the last day or so in my area of SE Wisconsin, up to and including the early morning news today, it was being made quite clear that use of cameras of any type inside polling places was strictly prohibited and if one did take a pic, even of the line inside, it could lead to a citation or more.

     

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      DannyB (profile), Nov 6th, 2012 @ 2:48pm

      Re:

      That makes sense. Maybe a certain party knows how you would vote and tells you it would be better for your health not to vote. Having a photo of you in line to vote indicates a disregard for their wishes.

      But they could just watch the polling place.

       

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    Chris Rhodes (profile), Nov 6th, 2012 @ 12:40pm

    Court Cases

    Has this ever been challenged in court? I have to wonder if it would really hold up vs. the first amendment.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 1:40pm

      Re: Court Cases

      I'm close to a free speech absolutist but I think this one could. The polling place is a very controlled area, like a surgical theater or an airplane. Lots of actions are controlled.

      Whether prohibiting photographs is really well-adapted to its purpose -- preventing vote-buying -- I'm not sure. The actual crime is vote-buying, not taking a photograph. It is difficult to think of taking a photograph as close enough to being wrong that it should be prohibited.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 2:15pm

        Re: Re: Court Cases

        I'm close to a free speech absolutist but I think this one could. The polling place is a very controlled area, like a surgical theater or an airplane. Lots of actions are controlled.



        Marlin v DC Board of Elections (DC Cir. 2001)
        Marlin contends the Board's enforcement of these regulations to prevent him from wearing a political sticker when voting inside the polling place is an unjustified restriction of his right to free expression under the First Amendment....

        The United States Supreme Court has identified three types of fora: the traditional public forum, the public forum created by government designation, and the nonpublic forum....

        The forum here, the interior of a polling place, is neither a traditional public forum nor a government-designated one. It is not available for general public discourse of any sort. The only expressive activity involved is each voter's communication of his own elective choice and this has long been carried out privately by secret ballot in a restricted space....

        Having concluded that polling places are non-public fora, we further conclude that the Board's enforcement of the challenged election regulations constitutes reasonable viewpoint-neutral regulation of expression within polling places.

         

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          btr1701 (profile), Nov 7th, 2012 @ 11:26am

          Re: Re: Re: Court Cases

          > Marlin contends the Board's enforcement
          > of these regulations to prevent him from
          > wearing a political sticker when voting
          > inside the polling place is an unjustified
          > restriction of his right to free expression
          > under the First Amendment

          I wore my Cthulhu/Dagon 2012 (Why vote for a lesser evil?) t-shirt when I went and voted yesterday, and actually had a little old lady election worker start to turn me away because she said I couldn't have any political material inside the polling place. I tried to explain to her that it was a joke and that an eons-old leviathan from the deepest abyss was not actually a candidate for office in Tuesday's election. She said that was all well and good but "even if he isn't running this time, you can't wear his campaign shirt into the polls." It took me pulling out my iPhone and googling up a picture of Cthulhu before she clued in and let me through the doors.

           

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 1:39pm

    I, for one, agree with laws requiring voting ballots to be kept secret. Voting secrecy exists for good reason and there are studies, in various countries, showing that people do vote differently when their votes are made public (I can't remember the details but I believe one example in Chili showed that when the country switched from private to public (or was it from public to private?) it did impact how people voted).

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 4:35pm

    Does this state that taking a picture of your ballot or the act of posting it would get you into hot water? Also if they were to take a picture to prove how they voted to get paid or whatever they need it for, would the person that is making them do it, just have it sent to them. If that is the case, then they are not posting it. In case no one remembers, we can send pictures without tweeting or facebooking them.

     

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    John85851 (profile), Nov 6th, 2012 @ 5:40pm

    How about looking at this from the other side: put your ***ing phones down for 10 minutes to vote! You don't need to Tweet or Facebook or Tumblr or whatever else. Geez, what's next, tweeting photos of yourself using the bathroom?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2012 @ 5:40pm

    I wonder if it's okay for me to Photoshop my blank ballot? Unless it's also illegal to post images of blank ballots which I highly doubt.

     

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    Getefix, Nov 7th, 2012 @ 8:26am

    Vote Purchasing

    If someone is motivated enough to sell their vote why on earth would they not take a photo of it one way, request a new ballot, take a photo of it the other way and sell them both -- leaving their desired vote for the final pic? Do you think the vote buyers would collaborate to prevent fraud? Or that one of the two parties in America is always free from sin?

     

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    Tex Arcana (profile), Nov 8th, 2012 @ 4:33pm

    Screw 'em all: I took a picture of my ballot to make damned sure it didn't get fucked with, in case things went wrong.

    Things didn't go wrong, so...

     

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