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PSA: Leave the Duck Faces at Home on Election Day

by Kristen Henderson, published

San Diego, CALIF. - You’ve done your homework. You registered to vote, decided whom you’re voting for, which measures to support, and which to oppose. You even found the best possible route to avoid Tuesday afternoon traffic. And now comes the real hard-hitting question… “can I take a selfie with my ballot?”

It depends. Photographing a completed ballot is illegal in many states. Ranging from misdemeanors to felonies, violation of these laws could result in fines or even jail time. Justin Timberlake came under fire last week after posing with his completed ballot in Memphis, Tennessee – a state that bans the ballot selfie.

Why all the controversy? In theory, ballot selfies violate the principle of the secret ballot. During the 1800s, states enacted laws to address the prevalence of vote buying and voter coercion of that time. Colorado enacted its law in the 1890s, for instance, because voters were receiving prizes like free drinks for showing their completed ballots. And who doesn't like a free drink?

Supporters of the ban worry that the current “selfie culture” will spawn a re-emergence of the buying and selling of votes, or even potential voter coercion from employers or organizations. They believe the laws are necessary to protect the integrity of the electoral process and prevent corruption.

Opponents recommend that, instead of a blanket ban, actual instances of voter coercion or bribery should be investigated and prosecuted. The laws, they argue, are not only dated, but they infringe upon free speech. Verbally divulging ballot picks or wearing campaign buttons post-election is allowed — and always has been — and many believe that posting photos is simply the modern medium for sharing that information.

Popular mobile storytelling app Snapchat chimed in earlier this year to oppose the ban and filed an amicus brief to a New Hampshire court. “Whether it’s a campaign button or a selfie from the ballot box, Snapchat believes that expressing participation in the democratic process is an important part of free speech and civic engagement that the First Amendment roundly protects,” the photo-sharing company told reporters.

While California hasn’t traditionally enforced the ban, you could potentially face fines or jail time for snapping that picture. Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill in September that repeals the 125-year-old law banning voters from showing their marked ballots, but this change will not be in effect until after the November election.

To be safe, save your selfies for the bathroom. Or the gym. Or the safari.  

Visit NBCNews to see a full list of which states prohibit photography at polling places.

What are your thoughts? Do ballot selfies infringe upon the sanctity of the voting booth? Or are they the new face of the democratic process? 

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