In response to increased social media messages on how, where and when to vote in the U.S. general election, voters are posting proof that they cast their ballots.
Whether it is a photo of the ballot showing who someone voted for, or a selfie of the voter, an increase in mail-in and early voting amid the pandemic means more voters are posting their ballot selfies the week ahead of the election.
Whether these photos are legally allowed differs by state.
According to data from Ballotpedia, as of September, 25 states and the District of Columbia allow ballot selfies — photos of a completed ballot or a picture of a voter inside the polling place.
Because the popularity of ballot selfies rose in the past decade, most state laws govern whether photos can be taken inside polling places. But there are no clear rules on whether an absentee ballot can be photographed.
In West Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, Delaware and Arizona, photography and/or cellphones are banned at polling places. In 2016, pop star Justin Timberlake deleted a photo of himself casting his vote in Tennessee after learning it was prohibited by a 2015 state law.
In Maryland and Iowa, rules banning photography in polling places specifically state that photos of mail-in ballots are allowed.
But many states argue that photography of a ballot or in a voting place violates the promise of a “secret ballot.”
The secret ballot has long been perceived as an integral part of the U.S. democratic system, protecting voters from criticism or peer pressure and allowing them to fulfill their democratic privilege in private.
Additionally, some states have argued that documentation of ballots could promote an uptick in voter fraud and buying votes — allowing companies or individuals to force paid voters to give confirmation that they completed their vote.
In 2014, New Hampshire banned photos of ballots, citing the potential of vote-buying or influence. But the Supreme Court upheld a decision by a lower court in 2017 that the law violated free speech laws. Today, New Hampshire is one of the 25 states in which no laws govern how you document your voting process.
Proponents of documenting the voting process have said it encourages fellow citizens to exercise their right to vote. In response to this, several states have encouraged alternate ways for citizens to share their voting process.
The state of Georgia has promoted a “Post the Peach” campaign, encouraging citizens to post photos of their “I Voted” stickers, which in Georgia feature the state’s signature fruit. A similar #GoVoteTN initiative in Tennessee encourages voters to pose next to an “I Voted” sign.
Celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Lizzo have posted videos of themselves dropping their completed ballots in a designated drop box, without revealing the ballot itself.