In Colorado, my sister would be a scofflaw.
You’d never guess. I mean, she’s a respectable type, if you leave out the bit about being a Microsoft attorney. She’s got two great kids, she’s a community volunteer, she considers the Colorado Avalanche to be a gift from above, or at least from Quebec.
But if she still lived in Colorado, she’d be at risk of a misdemeanor. Whether her action was a deliberate choice or an innocent impulse, the authorities might decide you can’t be too careful.
After all, those “ballot selfies” are pernicious.
If you haven’t run into them on social media yet, ballot selfies are the latest Election Day trend to come down the pike. With more states going to mail ballots, the cute little “I Voted” sticker is becoming a less common accessory. Instead, folks have begun taking pictures of their completed ballots and posting them online to prove that they’ve done their civic duty. (Despite the name, the ballots themselves have yet to start snapping pictures unless genetic engineering has gotten really spectacular.)
All of this was well and good until the Denver District Attorney’s office and the Colorado Secretary of State began warning voters that Colorado law doesn’t allow you to show your ballot to anyone. Online or otherwise.
As you might guess, the state is now being sued.
At first, all this seemed a bit amusing to me. I grew up with the idea that my vote is my business and nobody else’s. A bumper sticker or campaign pin might make your sympathies obvious, you might discuss your support or opposition to a particular issue, but putting your ballot out there for all to see seemed a little like sharing your pay stub with the world – unnecessary and maybe even a bit risky.
But the more I thought about it, the odder it seemed. These days, many people wear their politics on their sleeve, as obvious as a Bronco fan dressed head-to-toe in bright orange. Certainly, no one should be compelled to reveal their ballot or have it displayed against their will, but if someone wants to share how they voted, why not?
The official explanation in the states that ban it is to prevent bribery: “I’ll pay you to vote for Councilman Whiplash; you show me proof before cashing in.” But in both Colorado and my sister’s Washington, ballots are mailed to your home, making the restriction almost impossible to enforce, unless there’s a Facebook photo for evidence. (Heck, a husband and wife that fill out their ballots together are technically lawbreakers.)
More to the point, examples of this sort of corruption are vanishingly difficult to find. Now I’ll grant you, this has been a year for seemingly impossible things – Bob Dylan winning a Nobel Prize, the Chicago Cubs going to the World Series, Alexander Hamilton having his spot on the $10 bill saved by a hit Broadway show – but when you have to stretch and strain to find any cases to justify a restriction that’s been on the books for over a century, the odds of this one seem pretty small. Even if an instance is out there somewhere, if you want to identify and catch the person who’s offering the cash, you’re still going to need more proof than a single picture.
So why not allow it?
Honestly, I’m not sure anymore. It may or may not be wise to share all your political choices with every passerby – but if your ballot is your business, isn’t sharing it your business, too?
Every so often, there are efforts to amend this law. This year, they’ve gained a bit more energy. Perhaps it’s time they succeeded.
I know the state’s reluctant. But at long last, it may be time to bite the ballot.