Early voting is in full swing, and in 2016, that means people are just as excited about bragging that they voted as they are about actually participating in democracy. Unfortunately, because this is America, actively playing a part in the electoral process can bring about some real legal trouble, and in this case, the newly ubiquitous ballot selfie has been causing a stir, as a number of states have outlawed taking photos in the voting booth. In those states, voters caught taking pictures with their ballots, particularly if they’re already filled out, could face a fine or even jail time.
This leads to an important moment of self-reflection: Would I risk jail time for humble-bragging? Of course I would. But where I’d face that jail time is unclear: While the practice of ballot selfies is only full-on illegal in sixteen states, the majority of the country has a murky policy that leaves most voters just as confused and under-informed as the officials who are supposed to be enforcing their punishment.
Not everyone is willing to take such a risk, so we’ve done our patriotic duty and compiled a list of ways to let the world know how very woke and civically engaged you are without ending up in prison.
Take a photo outside your polling place.
This is the most conservative route, if you feel it’s better to be safe than sorry. At their harshest, lawmakers are declaring that there be no photography taken within 100 meters of a polling place, so measure your steps and get out that iPhone.
Take a photo with your mail-in ballot.
While you run the highest risk to get in trouble if you take a photo on-site at a polling place, it’s far less likely you’ll receive flack for throwing a filter on your mail-in ballot. Sure, there’s a possibility that a particularly sharp state representative might be combing through the #ivoted hashtag on Twitter and bust you, but the chances are significantly lower. And seriously, if they’re doing that, they need a new hobby.
That’s why they gave you the sticker, dummy.
The “I Voted!” stickers given out at polling places have been popular fixtures since the 1980s and for many, hold a certain amount of social currency. While many voters believe that everyone should have the right to make their ballots as public as their opinions are under the First Amendment, the stickers simply note that you’re an active participant. If you want to make a bigger splash than just saying you did it, that’s where the controversy of making a ballot public comes in.
Take a photo with your unmarked ballot.
In many states, this still carries a pretty significant risk, but if you absolutely need to show the world you made it all the way into a voting booth (go you!), pout and pose before you actually cast your vote. The reason that this causes such a conflict of interest in the first place is that while all Americans are entitled to freedom of speech, they’re just as entitled to the integrity of the voting process. How do filled-in ballot photos threaten that? Well, that’s the dilemma — not all states agree that they do.
Just brag that you’re voting without picturing the ballot.
Studies universally indicate that people are more likely to vote themselves if they see that their friends on Facebook are voting, too. Do what you’ve gotta do; wrap your naked body in the flag, get an “I’m With Her” neck tattoo, write a hideous song, and post it online. Obviously it is by no means illegal to reveal who you’ve voted for online (that’s what Twitter was built for), but in some places it can be flying too close to the sun to show the very paperwork on which you’re making it official. Either way, ballot-less selfies will still be encouraging to the more reluctant voters perusing your feed, and that’s just science.
Do whatever you want because the laws will probably change soon, anyway.
Because the laws can range from no punishment to jail time for an innocent snapshot, experts predict that the actual punishments imposed in the sixteen (mostly southern) states that technically make voting selfies illegal won’t be very severe; after all, most voters don’t know that what they’re doing is, in fact, illegal. The worry most states cite, in spite of frustration expressed by major social channels like Snapchat, is that posting a completed ballot will encourage vote buying, though no studies have indicated that is true.
So what happens if I you get caught, really?
In the states where ballot selfies are flat out illegal — New York, New Mexico, Colorado, Alaska, Nevada, South Dakota, Kansas, Wisconsin, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Connecticut, and New Jersey — punishment can range from a small fine to a jail stint of a few months. In other places like California, it’s okay to take a ballot selfie this time around, but it’ll be outlawed after this election. While there haven’t been many reported cases of actual legal entanglements resulting from ballot selfies in the early voting process thus far, high-profile figures like Justin Timberlake have received a public slap on the wrist for making their voting experience public.
This election season, it’s more important than ever to remind your friends both to vote themselves and, more importantly, show them how good you look voting. Just please, make sure that selfie doesn’t include handcuffs.