Tuesday’s voters may not have known it, but if you take a photo of your ballot to post on Facebook or Instagram in Illinois, you’re a felon and could get up to three years in prison. According to the Illinois Election Code, anyone who “knowingly … casts his vote” in a way that “can be observed by another person” is guilty of “a class 4 felony.” This definition includes activities such as taking a photograph of the ballot with your cellphone and uploading it to a social media platform.
Seemingly, no one’s been arrested for this trivial “offense” – at least not yet.
But the fact that these laws are still on the books, written decades before the advent of social media and smart phones, shows just how poorly government keeps laws up to date to account for advances in technology and changes in social norms.
To be fair, the purpose of the law may have been to prevent corruption. An unscrupulous electioneer could bribe people to vote for a given candidate and demand photographic evidence to confirm voters held up their end of the bargain. But it’s unlikely such a thing would happen, even in Illinois. It’s a highly ineffective (not to mention high risk) way to sway an election.
The law also burdens free speech rights. Though it may seem silly to some, young voters in particular are fond of sharing ballot photos as a way of demonstrating civic pride and identifying with political candidates or a cause. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words; expressing your political stances and participation in the political process with a photograph is an effective way to speak out about your values. And given the wide availability of cellphones with cameras and an ever-growing “sharing” culture on social media, we can only expect more of these photos in the future.
It’s way past time to update the law.
Bryant Jackson-Green is a Legal Researcher and Policy Analyst for the Illinois Policy Institute.