How to Take a Ballot Selfie and Not Get Arrested

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 needto 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.

How to Register and Vote Early in Florida Before the Presidential Election

On November 8th, it will be time to decide a new President of the United States. If you’re not registered to vote, now’s the time to make sure you’re ready when it comes time to visit the polls. Here’s all the information you need to get it done.

  • Florida: October 11, 2016

You can find more deadlines for things like absentee voting and early in-person registration for your state at the U.S. Vote Foundation’s website here. Some states allow you to register all the way up until Election Day, while others will cut you off at least a month early. However, you’re better off registering as early as possible, as this also makes you prepared for early and/or absentee voting, which is much more convenient.

Every state has different rules for voter registration. Fortunately, Vote.org, run by non-profit advocacy group Long Distance Voter makes deciphering those rules pretty straightforward. Follow these steps:

  1. Head to the Register to Vote page on Vote.org here.
  2. Scroll to the section labeled “Jump directly to your state.”
  3. Scroll down to read the registration guide with information on the requirements and deadlines for your state.
  4. When you’re ready, fill out the form at the top of the page. This will direct you to your state’s online registration, where available, or the forms you need to fill out for mail-in registration.

If you’re concerned about handing over your data to a third-party agency, you can read Vote.org’s privacy policy here. Most of the information you’ll use to register will be part of a public voter database anyway, and Vote.org says they delete private information like your driver’s license number immediately after it’s used to determine where you need to register. Still, if you’d rather avoid the third party, you can look up your state’s registration information from the United States Election Assistance Commission here, but Vote.org is much simpler.

If you already voted in Florida’s primary, you should still be registered. You can also use Vote.org to check your registration status if you’re not sure. It can’t hurt to double check, especially if you have moved since the primary or will move before the general election in November. The Brennan Center for Justice has a guide for voting after a move if you plan to relocate prior to the election.

The Difference Between Absentee and Early Voting

Once you’re registered to vote, you can look into absentee ballots or early in-person voting. Both of these methods let you cast your vote for the candidates you want without having to spend hours in line on Election Day. This makes voting super convenient and if you’re already looking into how to vote, you may as well get started on this now. Here’s what these two categories of voting mean:

  • Absentee Ballots: Absentee ballots are mail-in forms that allow voters to cast their votes before election day. Currently, all 50 states will send out absentee ballot forms to voters who request one, however 20 states require voters to provide an excuse for why they can’t vote on election day. You can request an absentee ballot as soon as you’re registered, though they won’t be sent out until the ballots are finalized. Again, you can check Vote.org for details on absentee voting in Florida.
  • Early Voting: 37 states allow you to show up in person to vote early, as long as you’re registered. No excuse is required for any of these states. The three states that use all-mail voting (Colorado, Oregon, and Washington) can also be considered “early voting,” since they already allow you to mail in your ballots ahead of time. You can find the early voting schedule for your state, as well as links to your local voting offices to find out where to vote early at Vote.org’s Early Voting Calendar here.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has created a tool here that shows which states support which forms of absentee or early voting. Most states support both, so you have some options in how to cast your vote. We highly recommend getting your votes in early, as you can avoid long lines and the chaos of taking off work on the day when everyone else is rushing to the polls.

For the 2016 election, it’s easier than ever to register and get your vote in early. Both major political parties are holding their conventions in July to determine their presidential nominees. Once that happens, you can expect both parties (as well as any independents) to kick their campaigns up a notch, so it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.