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Instagram the vote? Pics of your ballot not the best idea

By Megan Deppen
On November 5, 2012

Instagram, a popular phone application, allows users to publish photos of anything: food, pets, daily life, and for some, their election ballots. Many college students excited to vote for the first time may publish photos of their own ballot to share support for their candidate of choice. However, unawareness of the laws restricting photos of ballots in Wisconsin leads many to question the boundaries around Instagramming one's voting experience and what is really punishable by law.

Increased use of the Internet has heavily influenced the election, and the Citizen Media Law Project, hosted by Harvard University, asserted, "photography and video can be critically important to document the election process and to preserve a record of any procedural improprieties and interference with voter rights."

The article admits, however, that the regulation of privacy involved in voting serves to "safeguard voter privacy, protect against voter intimidation, and to ensure the proper functioning of the voting process."

Junior communication major Cassie Snyder thinks posting pictures of ballots is a "strong, successful way of making a statement," as compared to an elongated or vulgar post. After all, "a picture is worth a thousand words."

Recently, Wisconsin Democratic and Republican Chairmen were warned to take down Instagram photos of their ballots or otherwise pay a variably enforced fine of $10,000 and serve up to 18 months in prison. The Wisconsin State Journal explained that the law "bars voters from showing their completed ballots to anyone. The intent is to prevent people from selling their votes and then showing their ballots as proof they voted as requested."

Many college students away from home take advantage of the absentee vote, which provides the luxury of voting in a location of their choice. In Winnebago, Wisconsin, County Clerk Sue Ertmer believes "people were just [posting photos of their ballots] as a statement that [their] support is behind this candidate, and they wanted everybody to see it."

DePaul sophomore Talia Payomo, in reaction to Instagrammed ballots, said she "wouldn't even think about doing that. It's such a special thing for self-reflection on your own. But it isn't a violation. If you're proud, why not?"

The Citizen Media Law project found that photos or filming one's own marked ballot was prohibited in Illinois, but there remains unclear definition of restriction of photos taken outside the polling place, such as the case with an absentee ballot. 

Political science and economics sophomores John Daly and Kolton Kozlowski don't see the Instagrammed ballots as something significantly influential to other voters. "It might impact independent voters, but for the majority...it wouldn't sway them," said Daly.

Kozlowski personally doesn't like making his vote public, but the Instagram pictures are a "minor thing. On Facebook, people comment on the debate and [Instagrammed ballots] wouldn't do more than the generic Facebook post by your friends. It's just another way of doing that."

Kozlowski believes the ballots could even make some undecided college voters pause and think "'Hey my friends are actually voting.' Maybe it's not all bad."

According to the Voters Bill of Rights published by the Lake County Illinois website, voters have the right to privacy. The site also specifies, "Using a cellular telephone in the voting site may constitute electioneering, distract other voters or delay the voting process," but provides no guideline for photography of ballots.

The Instagrammed ballots disappoint DePaul freshman Gail Tierney, who had a romantic view of private voting, complete with the booth and curtain. Now voting is "just another thing you can tweet. In my family ...you don't tell who you voted for. I like that." 

College voters are encouraged to support their candidate, but with the lack of clarity and definition in terms of punishment of publicizing one's personal ballot, as Fox News advised that's "one picture that is better left unsent."


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