LANSING– Pics or it didn’t happen. That’s a phrase many millennials have come to live by in the age of smartphones, social media and selfies. But when it comes to casting your ballot, Michigan law doesn’t quite agree. Many voters will soon cast ballots in a booth or at home. Regardless of where or when you’re voting, documenting your ballot with a photo is against state law.

Singer Justin Timberlake posted this controversial ballot selfie on Instagram last month.
That hasn’t deterred some voters from snapping and sharing ballot selfies, unintentionally breaking the law, said Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, who has sought to repeal the restriction. According to a recent report by the Associated Press, 21 states and Washington, D.C., allow ballot selfies, while 16 states prohibit them with the threat of fines and even jail time. The remaining states have laws that are unclear or allow for photos with absentee ballots, for example, but not in voting booths.

Why do people do it?

Persuasion, presentation and camaraderie are reasons why people are eager to post voting photos on social media, said Cliff Lampe, an associate professor of information at the University of Michigan.

“Voting is important, especially with this very historic election,” Lampe said. “Sharing a selfie with your ballot persuades others to vote and participate as well.”

It’s a symbol of stewardship and responsibility, he said, as well as a “pro-social action.”

“Voting is a form of camaraderie that joins people together as part of a shared cultural experience,” Lampe said. “People aren’t posting these pictures out of vanity, but to communicate shared meaning with one another.”

Singh introduced a bill in March to allow electors to take a photograph of themselves in a polling place, of their ballot in a polling booth and of an absent voter’s ballot. It is still sitting in the House Committee on Elections so there won’t be any change before voters cast ballots Tuesday. Singh views the current law as an infringement on people’s First Amendment right to free speech.

”What I don’t want is someone to lose their vote because they inadvertently broke this law,” Singh said.

Slowing the bill’s progress, Singh said, is apprehension over the idea that allowing ballot selfies might make it easier for an employer, for example, to force workers to vote for a certain candidate to keep their job.

But he sees that to be unnecessary paranoia. Laws protect against those possibilities, Singh said.

Another argument is that taking photos in voting booths might hold up already lengthy lines that discourage voters, said Fred Woodhams, public information officer for the Michigan Secretary of State.

Again, Singh doesn’t buy it. He argues that legislation eliminating straight-ticket voting, along with the lack of voting locations available, are bigger barriers to speeding up the process.

“The bottom line is, I want to provide people who are enthusiastic about the candidate they’re voting for the opportunity to share their enthusiasm,” he said.

However, the need to preserve privacy rights in the voting booth has long been recognized by the state. For 125 years, Michigan law has prohibited ballot exposure to prevent voter intimidation and coercion, Woodhams said. Ballot exposure is showing your ballot to someone else. In the late 1800s, voter intimidation was a larger threat to the democratic system, helped along by ballots that were not kept secret by law, he said.

But Michiganders won’t lose their vote for posting a photo on social media.

“We’re not going through social media looking for people. Even if we did, by that point their ballot is already in the system.”

BRIDGET BUSH, Capital News Service