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Voting etiquette: Don’t take a selfie with your ballot


Photo by Adam Burke
Photo by Adam Burke

Nomophobes beware: When you go into the voting booth this election season, keep your phone in your pocket.

In Iowa, it is against the law to have a cellphone, camera or other recording devices in the voting booth and ignoring that rule could get you into trouble.

“One reason is your vote is private, it’s secret,” Carrie Nierling, Johnson County Deputy Auditor of Elections, said. “It does protect people who might have been encouraged to vote a certain way or threatened to vote for a certain candidate and provide proof.”

She also said a selfie-taker might inadvertently capture the contents of someone else’s ballot, revealing how they voted.

With cellphones becoming nearly ubiquitous, people taking photos in voting areas has become more of an issue, Nierling said. She added that signs will be posted in voting locations to let people know that they need to take a breather from their phones while voting.

“It’s hard to deny that we live in a culture that wants to photograph everything,” Nierling said. “People are excited, especially in a college town where some may be voting for the first time, and they want to take a picture.”

Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan saw pictures people posted of their ballots surface on his Facebook feed on the first day of early voting in Iowa.

“I understand. They are filled with excitement and want to show that they voted,” he said. “But the downsides far outweigh any positives. I actually think the integrity of your vote has to outweigh the First Amendment part of being able to photograph or post your ballot.”

And that’s coming from a self-described advocate of the First Amendment, he said.

Sullivan said he worried that if the flood gates were opened and people were allowed to photograph ballots, it could lead to people being forced to photograph ballots by employers, union leaders, abusive spouses or others who wish to coerce a vote.

The Iowa Secretary of State’s Office did suggest that precincts could set up a selfie station outside the polling area, where people could record their civic participation without fear of spilling the beans, Nierling said. Johnson County doesn’t currently plan to have any such stations set up this year, but it could be in the cards for future elections.

Other things to avoid: loitering or congregating in a voting area and posting campaign signs or trying to sway voters within 300 feet of the outside door of a polling location.

Generally speaking, follow instructions from poll workers and any posted signs and don’t pester any other civically-minded individuals trying to cast a ballot.


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