Taking a photo of your filled-in ballot is a felony in Illinois

Taking a photo of your filled-in ballot is a felony in Illinois

State lawmakers across the country have struggled to square ballot secrecy with the advent of smartphones and social media.

Early voting has begun in Illinois. But taking a picture of your ballot could come with a felony charge.

Snapping a photo of your filled-in ballot and posting it on Facebook or Instagram is technically a Class 4 felony in Illinois, which comes with a prison sentence of one to three years and a maximum fine of $25,000. According to the Illinois Election Code, anyone who “knowingly” casts his or her ballot in a way that “can be observed by another person” is breaking the law.

It appears the state has never charged an Illinois voter for taking a photo of their ballot and sharing it on social media. So why is this law still on the books?

The intent behind the law is straightforward. It’s meant to deter vote-buying: showing the photo in exchange for cash. But there are other laws in Illinois that explicitly outlaw vote-buying.

And there can be First Amendment issues with outlawing this kind of political speech.

In 2016, a federal judge struck down New Hampshire’s ballot selfie ban, deciding in response to vote-buying concerns that the ban was “burning down the house to roast the pig.”

From 2015 to 2016, Utah, Nebraska, Hawaii and California all passed legislation allowing voters to photograph their ballots.

Illinois came close to overturning its ban in 2017. State Rep. Emanuel Welch, D-Hillside, filed a bill that allowed voters to take photos of their ballot as long as they didn’t accept any money in exchange. The House passed it overwhelmingly. But the Senate never took a vote.

Until the law changes, Illinoisans who want to express their civic pride are better off sporting an “I Voted” sticker or taking a photo outside their polling place.

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