By Maddie Orton
Think twice before taking a selfie from the voting booth on Tuesday. Under current state law, showing your ballot could get you up to a $10,000 fine and to up 18 months in prison.
“I don’t think that it’s constitutional. I think that it totally contradicts the First Amendment values of speech and self-expression,” said State Assemblyman Raj Mukherji. He’s a Democrat from Hudson County. He introduced a bill in September to formally permit snapping a selfie with your ballot on Election Day. And, in a year of polarizing issues, his bill was approved unanimously by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
“This is something that could help encourage Millennials to vote,” said Mukherji. “It’s A) showing pride in the fact that you voted. ‘I voted, shame on you didn’t get out there today,’ right?” He went on: “Number two, it could be an endorsement… Not just in this incredibly important presidential election next Tuesday, but in the elections in between — the state legislative elections in the odd years, and the governors’ races, and mayor and council races, and school board races where every vote makes a difference.”
As it stands now, law dictates that: “No person shall within the polling room mark his ballot in any place other than in the polling booth or show his ballot…” This prohibition is in place to dissuade vote-buying. The idea is this: if a candidate was to try to buy votes, he or she would want proof the votes were cast. The ban takes the option of photographing the ballot — and essentially creating a receipt of transaction — off the table.
Does the ability to photograph facilitate the possibility of vote-buying?
“I think no more so than it is right now,” said Mukherji. “If you want to buy someone’s vote and you want to see the proof that that was done, the could still take the picture with the curtain closed.”
New Jersey isn’t the only state struggling with this issue. According to the Associated Press, 18 states have similar bans on photographing ballots. Last month in Tennessee, Justin Timberlake famously caught flack for posting a selfie with his ballot when he voted early.
Mukherji’s bill won’t make it to the legislative floor in time to enact the change before this Election Day. Still, with a similar law recently overturned in New Hampshire by a federal appeals court for infringing on freedom of speech, Mukherji is undeterred.
“I think you even said that you took a voter selfie. Is that right?” I asked. “I have; I intend to next Tuesday… To show my social media followers that I voted on Election Day, and I intend to show them who I voted for.”
But, if the whole thing feels too risky, there’s always the “Voting” status update on Facebook, or a good old-fashioned sticker.